Apple vs Toys R Us: Integrated in-store experiences
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Apple vs Toys R Us: Integrated in-store experiences

Marketers find themselves in a rapidly changing market environment. As such, there is an urgent need for marketers to consider this end-to-end customer experience and all channels on which they interact with their customers.

This is more urgent than ever, with a mobile-first customer who is constantly benchmarking your company using their device with price comparison, reviews and research. Intimately connected to this is the increasingly 'lost art' of constantly focusing on what your customer needs from your products or services, and what is motivating them to continue to engage with you in a physical environment. Brands can no longer take in-person shopping as a given in 2018, or worse, be satisfied that doing the same things they’ve always done is going to cut it for the modern consumer.

In a recent article by market research agency TTi Global, the agency implores companies to ‘Mind the Gap’ between customer expectation and customer perception. This is a key notion that underpins how your customer is acting in relation to your business. Ingenico Group recently shared an insight into this in their Online Payments and Ecommerce Market Guide (2017), where they examine consumer expectations and user experience in the context of personalisation in ecommerce. With approximately 80% of consumers having a mobile, the report sees this fact as key to the evolution of the shopping experience. This connects digital and in-store together in that customers are using a connected set of disparate devices on multiple touchpoints in their entire end-to-end journey – and, crucially, even if they make the actual purchase in a physical store environment, or simply initiate there in ‘show rooming’ and then purchased online. They confirmed that this is even more important to consider for younger millennial shoppers - nearly 100% of them checked prices or compared merchandise options on their mobile devices before making in-store purchases. In this sense, the instore experience is still crucial – it needs to inspire and motivate the consumer, either to complete the sale instore, or later online.

Building an on-brand in-store atmosphere

It is definitely too early to jump onto the Toys R Us post-mortem, as thousands looks for reemployment. However, it can be observed that Toys R Us had long not been performing well in terms of retail experience. Was it inspiring when you entered your local store? Did you have an interactive experience, with an opportunity to play with toys and games pre-purchase? The sad answer is most likely to be no.

Contrast that to any Apple Store experience. It is perhaps an unfair comparison to a brand with an estimated value of $146.3 billion, but the contrasts are stark if we benchmark Toys R Us against it. The advent of the exciting Angela Ahrendts era has seen an already great experience go the next level. The Apple store has many attributes that make conventional retail experience seem very 20th Century. The products are fully on display, accessible, and you can spend as little or as long as you want with them. There is never a lack of available team members, and they are completely self-functional – they can help (invariably with some great product knowledge, and know when to get an expert also), then can get you an item quickly and efficiently if you need, and they can take payment. Little queuing, open spaces that are packed but don’t feel too busy and even some trees. How far is your brand from this type of customer experience?

Again, another interesting aspect on Apple in this is the degree to which the ‘feel’ of the experience on mobile/desktop and instore is also so aligned. It’s clear that Apple are deliberately investing in user journeys that facilitate clear communication, but also in a way that is clearly valuing creativity and design to improve customer experience.

Apply digital thinking to the physical experience

With all of this focus on digital, don’t forget about your physical experience also – if you are lucky enough to get someone to come into your store, what do they need to make decisions to buy? How can you support them in the pre-purchase journey? What retail offer is missing? The Apple offer is impressive stuff – but, good news, all you need to do is download one mobile app (the Apple Store app) and use it to find your local Apple store to be able to learn first-hand. Sounds simple? It is. Start your journey on the App, and notice how connected the customer journey is – remember, your customers generally now want the exact same level of experience they get online in person also – how can your products and services work like this to meet your customer needs and delight them?

Connected (no pun intended) to this idea is also ensuring you are encouraging, supporting and setting up any physical interactions with your customer with as much information as you can give them. Remember you are always competing against the best digital experiences your customer has ever had. A great place to start is ensuring your customers can do everything they can on your desktop experience (even if you have a responsive site), and make sure all screens and user flows are rendering well on smaller, less current devices – so no testing on your iPhone X or Galaxy S9s. Why? Remember, the majority of your customers are using something different in terms of design and resolution.

It is increasingly important for any marketer to put themselves in the shoes of your consumers – literally. A great – and so underused – way to take a practical step on this is to mystery shop one of your own retail locations, and then also another one from an unconnected industry.

See how you are treated in each – are the products displayed as you expected? How were you communicated to? Did you feel you were important? Did your team pursue a sale as you would have wished them to? Take what you have learned and apply the best practice to improving your own retail environment design, thinking and team training.

For more insight and guidance on how to manage your customer experience operations, attend our dedicated training course

Dr Geraint Evans FCIM Award winning marketing professional, writer and presenter
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