To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports about the death of the UK high street have been greatly exaggerated. Today, in my home town of Cambridge saw high-street stalwart House of Fraser open up its first “click and collect” hub right in the middle of my local Café Nero. I am writing this staring at it. The logic goes something like this: When having your morning fix of caffeine you can browse the newly installed tablets fixed (by chain) to our tables click and—err—collect your shopping perhaps when getting your caffeine fix on the following day. Does it supercharge the customer experience? You can’t question the convenience for House of Fraser customers but I actually think the customer experience at my local Café Nero loses something judging by the scowling faces of those sitting around me (maybe they’re after a new crowd). What it does do is signal a new mind-set and some interesting configurations emerging on the UK high-street.
We used to shop for essentials in our town centres but now we increasingly use them to drink coffee, socialize or get a tattoo (according to a new study). Now, we head onto the high street for the inessentials and buy the important stuff online. And it’s not such a bad thing when you think of how things were “when I were a lad.” My abiding “customer experience” was trudging past the ubiquitous Athena poster stores, Our Price record shops or Woolworths that were replicated up and down the land. The experience was pretty dire whether you were in Cambridge (nicer buildings), Cardiff (nicer accents) or Chester (better history). But the high street is fighting back because the customer journey is no longer about getting on the number 15a bus and heading into town. The journey encompasses multiple channels and platforms before shoppers even visit the shop and afterwards, when they get home. Retailers are learning to mix the physical with the virtual. At our event in London called “Getting Personal” we explored these themes through John Lewis, Diageo and how LoveFilm mastered data way before that pesky Netflix started up.
When folks are polled what they would like to see open on their high street, it seems we all salivate for either a John Lewis (good solid quality) or a Primark (fast fashion). They are the chalk and cheese of retail but why the high demand for presence? I would argue that both have data mastery at their core and understand exactly what their customers want and follow them. They already collect vast troves of data, such as inventory levels, sales, marketing leads and customer trends, combine it and shape them into a compelling offering for their target markets. There are challenges however. Diageo revealed how different departments don’t always understand the types of data being collected by others while differences in data format complicate the process of integrating data. Diageo therefore implemented an integrated data warehouse strategy, pulling market and consumer data into a single repository. The data gets used to analyse brand performance and predict future demand across its thirteen strategic brands. Key to this was ensuring a ‘cultural change’ to use the system with extensive communications within the company, lots of training and top-down support.
Pivoting around data requires a mind-set change right through the organization. Although high-level sponsorship of a single-customer view overcomes resistance to change, colleagues are more likely to engage if they are enthused why they are doing what they’re doing. We heard from LoveFilm how it formed small, cross functional “pizza teams” with highly focused tasks and supplementing them with resources from the start-up scene to fill many of the functional gaps. This provided the agility to respond to shifts in customer behaviour, customize its platform and to scale rapidly (this agility also made them ripe for acquisition which is why Amazon acquired LoveFilm according to the speaker). John Lewis fills the gaps by plugging into the start-up scene through its JLAB incubator programme. This year it gave 12 start-ups a chance to compete for £100k in investment. The winner, Localz, specialises in micro-location beacon technology, and will deploy its solution in John Lewis’s stores in the coming months—and remember, I talked about how these code halos are beginning to emerge around the shop-floor mannequins and drive point of sale innovation. Watch this space.