Despite the steady rise of e-commerce, the offline retail industry is exhibiting strong growth with a projected growth rate of 10% putting India ahead of China by 2025. Studies in the year 2016 have shown that the Indian retail sector is projected to double from $600 Billion to $1 Trillion by 2020.
Kishore Biyani, CEO of the Future Group, strongly believes that it is time for people to realize that online retail is not a threat to offline retail yet as they still have less than 1% of the business share; added to the fact that the cost of staying in the online business is really high.
There is still a great deal that a physical store can offer to their customers. The touch and feel experience that only a physical store can deliver still remains irreplaceable. The question that persists, however, is how are physical stores going to build on this advantage by building better experiences.
The foundation – In-store design
Learning from industry leaders like Big Bazaar, D-Mart and our own experience in executing layout strategies for leading retailers, we have identified some attributes that are highly interconnected and common to how experiences are designed and executed. And the foundation of every experience lies first and foremost in the store layout in itself.
The objective of a designed layout is to encourage customer exploration and send them on a specified route/journey as they walk down through the store. Retailers set this experience by either using predefined layouts (commonly used) or customize it based on the path that you would like your customers to move through. The 3 most commonly used layouts of them are the gird, racetrack and free form.
When the customers need is to move through the entire store and easily locate the products they need, the grid is most efficient in terms of cost and space. All the aisles are ideally the same width, parallelly arranged on both sides with the cash register at the entrance or exit. This is the layout found in most of the large supermarkets. The challenge with this layout, however, is that it is not very visually appealing and at the same time it also does not allow for visibility of all the products.
When the aim is to take the customers on a journey and tell a story, the racetrack layout is the way to go. The aisles are differentiated by a change is surface or colour and the cash registers are ideally located in each department. This layout is great to showcase the merchandise in every single department and promote impulse buys by reducing the time it takes to the bill. This layout is found in a lot of the huge chains that stock multiple fashion brands. The only challenge with this layout is the fact that the customer needs to adjust his or her viewing angle periodically.
Free Form Layout
When the aim is to help the customer relax and feel at home, the free-form layout is the way to go. This environment helps in building sales because the time spent in each section is higher. Ideally used in smaller stores like boutiques or within departments of larger stores where personal selling is needed, this layout is built in an asymmetrical pattern with arranged fixtures and aisles. However, a challenge with this layout is the loss of real estate or display and storage space. Making the right choice is critical but a key factor to keep in mind is the fact, that what works for the customers today may not work tomorrow. It is extremely important to be flexible and allow for a change in layout and merchandise mix. It is also most important to ensure that the components of your layout can be easily modified.
A few other considerations to always keep in mind are;
- The entrance which sets the expectations! Avoid clutter and ensure that it entices. The right feeling at the start of the journey ensures that your customers don’t get disoriented or leave feeling uncomfortable.
- Make it easier to find products; use signage and graphics; mark areas, product shelves, and display offers. The easier customers find it to locate the products they need, the higher your sales.
- Lighting is everything. Merchandise that looks better, sells more. Period.
The one thing that is apparent today is that it is no longer just about the product. Customers do not treat shopping as a need but as an experience to relish and that is not something they are willing to compromise on. This provides retailers with a unique opportunity to develop strategies for delivering this experience and boost business.
So, how do you build a great customer experience strategy?
A SEAMLESS EXPERIENCE, the only expectation. Irrespective of location or the socio-economic situation of the area, customers are more aware and know that they can get more and deserve better. The tendency to settle with what they have is long gone. But building the customer experience takes more.
- Staff interactions are the first and last thing that customer remember. It is not just the presence or availability of the staff though, it is about how well the staff understands their needs and can make intelligent recommendations about the product options.
- Information is key to decision making with the customer demographics of today. This generation is likely to conduct its research before making a big buy even before they come to the store. But what about smaller-priced daily utility products that they might not look into beforehand, especially when you are introducing a new product? Information remains strong selling point. Digital product brochures that are brand authorized made available with barcode scanning can turn the tables for a store greatly.
- Checkout experience alone can undo every effort that a brand has made to build a strong in-store experience for their customers. Long queues and wait period are irksome and most definitely not appreciated. Creating smoother check out experiences with barcode scanning with basket addition and other self-check points can greatly enhance the emotion that the customer feels when they leave your store. The experience though doesn’t just end with a smooth check out, coupons and goodie bags that show a brands gratitude can go a long way in building loyalty and enhancing repeat visits.
- Dwell spaces or downtime zones are not emphasized enough in today’s world where everyone is in always on the run. Take for examples the biggest names in the world of retailing books like a crossword. They not only give customers the perfect space to browse and buy, they also give them a space to sit down, read and relax. They make sure their customers feel welcome and this sense of comfort alone has boosted sales tremendously along with loyalty. All these details build an unforgettable experience, but every experience is dependent on a singular factor and in this case, it is the in-store design. Start at the foundation to build a successful business!