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It's easy to say you're customer centric, but you have to show it.

'Customer experience is king' was the key message I took away from Retail Week Live 2017. Here are some of the highlights from the brands that presented.

Extreme "brandsparency" at Ritual and Target

Trevor Hardy, Chief Executive of The Future Laboratory, highlighted how the nature of consumer trust has changed. Trust in institutions is no longer automatically granted but must be earned. He suggested education is the next frontier for brands and referred to the concept of ‘extreme brandsparency’, with retailers going to great lengths to prove their commitment to transparency.

One such brand is Ritual multivitamins which shows where each ingredient comes from and provides links to manufacturers' websites. It also makes clear which ingredients are not included and why. 

Another example was Target’s Good & Gather pilot which took a new approach to food labelling. It flips the traditional food label on its head by boldly and clearly displaying ingredients on the front of packaging rather than in fine print on the back.

The idea originated out of work from the brand's Food & Future coLab, which opened in January 2016. Other pilot projects have included allowing consumers to scan fruit and vegetables to find out their precise nutritional content. Then the consumer pays for the produce based on how fresh it is with less-than-fresh items toting a smaller price tag. 

So-called “smart scales”, placed next to participating produce, tell consumers a variety of information about the specific item such as how it was produced, whether it is organic, and its nutritional profile. The retailer is using the scales to get a better idea of the types of information that consumers are hungriest to know when stocking their homes.

Sainsbury's focuses on "knowing its customers better than anyone else"

The opening keynote from Mike Coupe, Chief Executive at Sainsbury's, highlighted the emphasis the retailer puts on their colleagues making a difference. Coupe talked about how Sainsbury's values make them different and are part of the DNA of the business. 

With customers having so much choice, the brand is focusing on knowing its customers better than anyone else and being there for its customers. To that end, Sainsbury's is using its transactional database to offer other products in ways that help their customers. A great example is with their car insurance product. The retailer understands that if a customer buys certain brands they are less likely to crash their car, and this enables them to offer discounts to customers based on what they know about them.

Birchbox shows it is not always about the 80/20 rule

Katia Beauchamp, Co Founder & CEO of Birchbox, gave me a chance to hear at first-hand not just the story of how the brand has been at the forefront of innovation in the beauty industry, but the way they are now looking to defend this position and differentiate themselves.

A key point that stood out was how they hadn’t chased the customers that everyone else in the beauty industry was going after ie. high spenders. They found a way to go after those not really engaged, the passive, under-served and under-spending. Competitors were focusing on the 80/20 rule whilst Birchbox wanted to build a destination place for the beauty majority - the 80%. This is a group who value beauty products but within the context of their lives.

Birchbox's success has been based on the realisation that consumers need to experience the product in real life before purchase. The brand wanted to provide everyone with their own beauty editor, like a best friend who opens the door to their beauty closet and hands you things they think would work for you and tells you then how to use them. This ethos led Birchbox to provide a real discovery experience with trial products supported by context information. 

Birchbox has continued to build relationships with its customers by keeping them engaged between deliveries of trial boxes through their engaging content and ongoing personalisation, supported by all forms of social media. Snapchat video calling has been a great example of this - where followers can ask questions and get beauty tips.

Birchbox has also recently announced plans to open its second brick-and-mortar store in Paris later this year, following its first in New York. For Beauchamp it is about using these stores to build on the relationship with their customers so they become even more powerful advocates in the real world. 

Halfords says service is "in its DNA"

Jill McDonald, Chief Executive of Halfords, emphasised the importance of service in the brand's DNA, something that requires an engaged workforce.

McDonald talked about the ways in which they are bringing their service ethos to digital, with emphasis on making every customer feel ‘sorted, inspired, and supported'. The slide below shows three of the tenets of this move to digital.

move from ecommerce to service commerce, make mobile the heart of all halfords experiences, make Halfords irresistible with amazing new services

Timpson practices "upside down management"

The idea that your people are the key to great customer service was also reinforced by John Timpson, Chairman of Timpson, in his interesting talk on ‘upside down management’. “You need to trust your people to do it their way” he said.

His approach was to give his shops autonomy and let them run the business, with even prices being simply a guideline. Reward and recognition are important, but Timpson saw finding the right people as crucial to the brand's success. You can teach people the skills to do the job, he argued, so he recruited people with the personality to deliver great service to their customers.

Shop Direct has "3 seconds to grab customers’ attention"

Alex Baldock, CEO of Shop Direct, sought to counteract predictions made in 2015 by Planet Retail that said pureplay etail will largely cease to exist by 2020. 

The challenge for retailers is to understand how much attention and patience customers have. Baldock believes relevance wins in retail and on mobile this is even more true, where Shop Direct sees 68% of its sales.

Baldock argues the online retailer has three seconds to grab consumer attention. How do they do that? By focusing on imagery, video and making it relevant. Shop Direct focuses on personalising the experience for everyone - presenting a curated range of products at the front of the store, but still enabling customers to search from the full wardrobe.

This approach starts with data. The retailer knows its customers so much better online, what they like and dislike and what they believe in. As a pureplay, all the testing is online, something which is more complicated for mutlichannel retailers.

Shop Direct's test-and-learn approach ican be observed in the experiement below, conversion was increased by making the basket indicator more prominent, reducing the 'visual noise' of the header bar and highlighting the item count through a colourful indicator badge. These efforts resulted in a 1.6% lift in conversion.

At Shop Direct agile working is key. People still belong to functions, but an increasing part of their time is spent with other parts of the business. It is about getting the right people to solve problems, giving them the authority and letting them loose to test their way to success. The team have been astounded by the ideas and energy created by working this way, radically improving the rate of innovation in the business. 

To hear more about what Shop Direct's approach to delivering an easy and ever-more personalised mobile experience with Very.co.uk, Econsultancy subscribers can sign up for our Mobile Trends webinar.

Lynette Saunders

Published 6 April, 2017 by Lynette Saunders @ Econsultancy

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