Customer Experience

How retail brands are getting the customer experience right

Catherine Thurtle // October 9, 2019 // 10 min read

Danielle Lumetta, Retail Consulting Manager at Accenture, has advised some of the world’s biggest retail brands. In our latest CX Visionaries profile, we spoke to her about brands excelling with the customer experience, and how they’re doing it.

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“There is no rule book with retail,” says Danielle Lumetta, Retail Consulting Manager at Accenture. “The industry hit rock bottom a few years ago. Now there are no guidelines. We can create our own experience.”

And Danielle should know. She’s worked in retail in some form or another since high school. From folding shirts on the shop floor, to nowadays advising the world’s top brands on their CX (customer experience) programs.

“As a retail practitioner in any way, shape or form, you feel like you're truly constructing what the future of this industry could be like. And I find that super exciting.”

What’s the average consumer journey today?

“We used to live in an omnichannel world,” says Danielle. “Where online and brick and mortar stores were separate distinctive entities. But now as everything in our lives, we expect seamless experiences. Think Uber, Amazon, Airbnb.

“These experiences are often easy and instantaneous. And if they’re not instantaneous, then you at least get to see each step of the journey.

“There's no longer a distinction between channels. It’s all one seamless, cohesive journey.”

Stores as experiences

Stores are no longer the main selling channel, says Danielle. They’re now more of a marketing experience — an extension of what the brand stands for. “Stores are about selling a brand experience - they are physical embodiments of what a brand stands for, a place for customers to fully immerse themselves in that brand experience” she says.

Know your customer

“Brands are becoming more like Disney — giving consumers little experiences, rather than just pushing product.”

Danielle says a great example of this is women’s workwear brand MM.LaFleur. MM.LaFleur started online, but quickly expanded into bricks and mortar stores to answer to who their consumers are, how they want to shop, and what type of experience they have to have in store.

What they found out was something simple, but effective. The women who shop at MM.LaFleur hated to shop, instead they wanted to feel as if they were at home trying on clothes in their closet with their best friend. They wanted a relaxed experience that wasn’t overwhelmed with the latest hot digital tools or technology.

“You’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of who your consumers are and how they're changing the way they're shopping,” says Danielle. “You also have to have a very clear cut idea of what you stand for in the marketplace. This will transcend itself into trust.” In fact, Accenture
research has found that consumers are willing to spend 31% more with retailers who have a
strong purpose.

‘You’re no longer buying a product — you’re buying a brand image’

And trust is crucial in today’s marketplace, as consumers are spoiled with choice. They’re no longer using price solely as a differentiator. “Consumers buy into what the brand stands for, and the ethos of the brand,” says Danielle.

“You’re not just buying their product, you’re buying their brand image, which is increasingly being influenced by retailers’ stances on sustainability, ethics, and in some cases, politics.

We’re entering into this era of responsible retail in which 93% of consumers expect brands to
support social and environmental issues and are willing to spend up to 20% more on
sustainable products.”

Helping the consumer live their ideal lifestyle

The store is a manifestation of your lifestyle, explains Danielle. You walk into these stores and it's like you’ve walked into the brand, not just four walls. Referencing Sonos’ store in New York as a great example of this.

“Sonos are just speakers, right? They have great sound, but in and of itself, they may not seem too unique.

“But what Sonos did was they constructed little houses. One’s a living room, one's a bedroom, one's a kitchen. And you can literally go into this experience and play with the sound. It's really cool. It makes you visualize what your life could be like actually owning their product.”

What other brands are nailing CX in retail?

“I personally love the Reformation brand experience,” says Danielle. Reformation is a sustainable clothing brand. “The fitting rooms are spacious, you can play with the lighting and the sound. You can request new sizes and colorways at a push of a button. It's a comfortable experience. Versus if you go into a traditional retailers’ fitting room, where it can be cramped and dark and sweaty, which is not something that anyone wants!” Reformation also did a great job of understanding their customer and the experience she wanted to have. For example, a large portion of their customer base is millennials who, they found, don’t necessarily want to talk to anyone upon entering a store. As a result, Reformation created a fully digital experience that means consumers could not speak to a single employee if they so choose.

Sustainability and body positivity

Danielle also cites Rent the Runway as a good example of a brand giving customers the experience they want. Rent the Runway offers exactly what it sounds like: high fashion at an affordable cost, which you rent instead of buy. “This is spot on when you think about how important sustainability is to this demographic, on top of keeping up with fashion trends,” she explains.

It also ties in with the trend for body positivity, which is becoming increasingly important within the younger demographic. It shows real people wearing its clothes on the website, not just stick-thin models. This means consumers can see different body types wearing different designs and decide if that would suit them.

The role of technology

Bearing in mind how relatively simple these consumer experiences are, how much of a role does technology play in today’s CX? “Technology is pivotal,” says Danielle. “That's how you get to seamless, personalized experiences, by using AI and advanced analytics.

“However, in terms of what the customer actually sees, I think brands need to be careful. There’s now this trend in retail that people are opting to do things like a digital mirror or smart closet. But, for example, M.Gemi found their customers just weren’t interested in those things, so they didn’t include them in their store experience.” Retail brands need to remember the golden rule: “Understand who your core customer is and how they want to shop and design the experience accordingly.”

Break down silos

What about brands that aren’t working? One of the biggest pain points Danielle says she sees when consulting for retail brands is the problem of silos. “You’ll find marketing, merchandising, e-commerce etc. all operating separately.

“To truly understand and react to where the customer is, you need to break down those silos to be able to work together as one team.

“One way to get around this is to work in pods, or small teams focused on an outcome you want to achieve. Similar to consulting where you have people with majors and minors and pull people onto projects as they're needed. So it's no longer, ‘I work in marketing, I only do digital marketing,’ or ‘I work in merchandising and I only do men’s buying.’ It's a truly collaborative team that pulls on all the differentiated skills of its team members to solve problems.”

‘Fail fast’

Creating a culture of innovation is also important. “There shouldn’t be a fear of failure,” says Danielle. “And when failure does happen, it’s important to fail fast and learn from it — to take those learnings and apply it.”

“Have a mentality of being truly risky and try new things to see if it works. If it doesn't work, then know you're at least gaining learnings along the way.”

Danielle gives the example of Amazon. “They spend an exorbitant amount of money on R&D, but not all of their initiatives are successful. Take the Fire Phone, that was a huge flop.

“But from that they were able to learn specific things that they then transitioned into their tablets and other mobile offerings, such as Alexa.”

Good customer experience follows good employee experience

And finally, keep people at the core of your business, says Danielle. “Whether that’s internally or externally. For a company to be customer-centric, they also need to be employee-centric. This means that it’s crucial for employees to be engaged. Companies that invest in a great employee experience outperform the S&P 500 by 122%, which is just incredible.”

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Catherine Thurtle

Catherine Thurtle is a contributor to the Qualtrics blog.

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