With more than 60 stores across the UK and Ireland, and a more than 150-year history, House of Fraser is a retail outlet that has seen it all over the years. The company has become something of a household name in the areas it serves, and has continued to see success primarily because it has been happy to change with the times and evolve as the industry has dictated it to.
In Part I of this two-part Q&A, which I conducted around the time of last year’s eTail Europe event (can’t believe we’re already approaching this year’s!) I spoke to Andy Harding, Executive Director of Multi-Channel, about how House of Fraser views the in-store experience, and how the company has changed it to meet the changing needs and demands of the customer. (And for any of you who don’t know the brand, take a trip to London and you’re bound to run into one of the company’s brick and mortar outposts. It’s pretty much the Macy’s of the UK).
Part II discusses the company’s social media strategy, so stay tuned for that!
Q: What do customers really want and expect from the in-store experience?
A: I think that all customers expect the basics to be done well – great service, clear sign posting and sensible logical layout. They would expect the store to be clean and tidy, staff to be present and willing to help with little prompting, good lighting, plenty of changing rooms, comfortable environment (appropriate music and temperature). All basic stuff really.
However, at the most basic level I think they want two key things: to find the item that they are looking for, especially if they didn’t know what that was when they entered the store, and for that item to be in stock in their size.
Q: Have their expectations changed in the last 10 years? If so, how? What has stayed consistent?
A: I think they have to a certain extent, especially in some product areas. The basics still apply of course, but new innovation has brought added convenience to the fore, and that has made a big difference. The invention of self-service checkout is probably the most obvious – supermarkets that don’t offer this are frustrating. Kiosks giving access to the online assortment and stock have been tried and largely failed. However, they really do work when they are part of an assisted purchase and I think access to these services via mobile will mean that customers will increasingly expect to be offered them. I also think that the ability to interact and engage with product has become expected.
Q: Which multi-channel technologies do you see gaining real traction in terms of integration with in-store experience?
A: Mobile apps and mobile optimised websites bridge the gap between online and in-store, so expect to see the innovation in these devices. Access to online assortment is a big driver – using QR codes and bar codes to see the full range or access inventory not available in the store.
Digital payments and wallets are set to gain real traction this year. It needs ac couple of catalysts for this to happen though – one player needs to emerge as the dominant one for wallets and it needs the new iPhone to ensure NFC takes off.
Q: Which new technologies do you think might falter?
A: I think augmented reality solutions like Google Goggles are gimmicky.
Q: How can we leverage all the different channels out there to be sure we’re bringing customers the best experiences?
A: Ensure the customer has the same experience in all of them. Where possible, recognise the customer and use your knowledge of them and their preferences to personalise the experience.