Posted by: Hilary Atherton
Associate Director, Retail Research and Consulting
Jones Lang LaSalle EMEA Research and Anna Johnson
The current darlings of the high street are the young fashion brands. This is with good reason; Supergroup are the most successful IPO last year; The Sting have come to the UK converting Tower Records in Piccadilly and landlords are arm wrestling to have Hollister anchoring their schemes. But what is the view from their target market? What does your Forever 21 customer want from a shopping trip whether it be virtual or on the high street? We went shopping with Anna, 21, a university student living in Camden whose experience as a part time shop assistant as well as an avid shopper is conducive to giving us an insight in to her views on the shopping experience and what changes she is observing.
As we observe dramatic changes and improvements to technology, key protagonists in the retail property world continue to mull over whether the internet poses a long term threat to retail space… but how does this effect the likes of Anna?
Still the need to try before you buy?
With the prevalent inconvenience of delivery and returns (compared to the ease of the initial click of the ‘buy’ button) combined with consumers’ need to ‘try before they buy’, retailers maintain a hold over the virtual world. Anna, like many of her contemporaries, likes to try before buying but is happy to go with the technological and logistical changes that make life easier or indeed just more fun.
What do retailers need to do to retain customers like Anna who are happy to flit between the channels? Is it customer service that is important? Should shopping centres offer more than just shops? Do consumers want to be entertained rather than simply be part of a transaction? In essence it is all of the above.
Anna makes the point that to her the shopping experience remains bland and rather uninspiring. She politely acknowledges that whilst stores are updating or modernizing to appear cosmetically appealing to customers, few have actually created a retail space different to any other.
In the past few years we have seen only a handful of stores setting precedence in creating a new kind of shopping experience. It is not surprising to know that the younger brands have been pioneering this with each brand are trying to outdo each other. The Sting, for their new store in the UK, didn’t have interviews but castings for their vacancies building on the theme of service operators being entertainers.
Gasps of “Wow” contrasted with complaints
The wafting scent, dim lighting, loud music, dancers, entertainers and creative shop displays are evidently going to appeal more to some consumers than others; gasps of ‘wow’ are contrasted with complaints. It is undoubtedly difficult for retailers to appeal to all, but they can strive to appeal to the majority and reduce polarizing specific groups. “The loud music and atmospheric setting is likely to appeal to the likes of me” says Anna, but with the population ageing rapidly and significantly, retailers must be aware of their target audience and provide a unique shopping experience that will appeal to them.
While it has been debated through our Retail 2020 research that a change in shopping experience is essential, a transformation that mimics the few stores we see to stand out with something different is not necessarily needed, or enough. An interesting and exciting store will pull customers in, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will make purchases. The answer to the majority of shoppers ‘prayers’, and a tool to ensure high conversion rates, is more likely to come in terms of customer service; an aspect which the internet cannot easily offer so far. Even the young, internet savvy consumer wants to be provided with product knowledge and expertise; two factors that will differentiate the in-store experience from online.
And so to the shopping centre, the much publicized teenage playgrounds. With individual stores embracing technology and multi channels how does the shopping centre remain appealing? Depending on a few innovative young fashion brands to give them publicity is not enough. Anna, like her friends, much prefers a centre that goes beyond retail – those that have good connectivity; public transport access and or free car parking, cinemas, bowling alleys and food courts. Whilst retailers can determine the appeal of their stores to consumers, shopping centres need to play their role in attracting customers and to increase linger time; this can be accomplished through the provision of services and leisure.
So what can we take from this?
The future of retail is exciting, not daunting but definitely more than simply about transactions. In addition to that engagement with customers and improved shopping experience has to be a priority amongst retailers regardless of their demographic
It is vital that retailers embrace technological changes and use them to their advantage; for example with real time promotion messages sent to customers’ smart phones when they enter the store. Embracing these technological advances will ensure consumer satisfaction and thus the longevity of retail space will be strengthened; this relies on adaptability and innovation. It is important to recognize that this retail debate remains one form versus another; however research has shown that savvy consumers are likely to use more than one channel to meet their shopping needs. The use of the internet will inevitably increase but this certainly does not mean shopping is dead; retailers can maintain their foot hold in retail and not lose out significantly to e-commerce.
It is vital that retailers embrace technological changes and use them to their advantage