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TO STAFF OR NOT TO STAFF? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Store staff continue to remain one of, if not the most important key drivers of conversions in a retail space. However, we are now living in a world where consumers are on the prowl for convenience. As a result, we are now experiencing retail spaces with minimal or in some cases no staff? Totally digitally led shopping experiences are now coming to the forefront. Yet 41% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding brands and their products. Have certain brands gone too far? Or are certain brands doing too little? Can brands find a happy medium?

Opened an un-staffed store in Seoul South Korean… an immersive, almost underground experience expressed from the freedom of the brand in a physical retail space. Hype or new luxury brand mentality? Will people be retained for furthering purchasing or just pop in once just for the hype? Is this a genius option for those who would rather shop in privacy or is this option to capture those who experience massive surges of FOMO? In this instance they have built an uninterrupted journey through a visually challenging environment which in turn creates a feeling of product ‘desire’ (for us anyway).

LAB101 state that their brand begins and ends with freedom. The freedom to be as comfortable as you like. A challenge against established predispositions, an attempt at something more. “We express all this and more through denim”. The store certainly rings true to this statement and is 100% expressive of its brand ethos through its physical environment. We could see others following suit but aimed at the hyper cool amongst us who GET the brand message and like the feeling of belonging to what is almost an androgynous brand experience. Fair play to LAB101!

A store that’s combined with digital assistance and well-trained staff, it seems Nike may have found the halfway house. Nike have combined data, their app and physical retail space to create a very appealing way of shopping. From scanning mannequins to get a full look outfit sent to your dressing room, to picking up your order from a locker in store, that can be unlocked from your phone. The NIKE NYC Store does it all. Check stock levels, select the fitting room lighting to suit your sporting environment, pay and go. It seems like a great balance between a digital and physical retail experience. Nike’s staff are highly trained so if you need that human interaction for help or advise, they’re right there. But if you want to navigate the entire store pick up what you want and pay for it with zero interaction then that’s possible too.

What’s clever about this approach is Nike really know their customers. They’re extremely informed about their purchasing behaviours and they know that 80% of their customers want physicality in the buying process. But they also know how their customers shop digitally and they’ve managed to combine the two. Localised styles for this NYC shopper are continually restocked based on data harvesting ensuring their customers get exactly what they want. Perfect combination.

Opened their first grocery store on the high street and we are not surprised that Amazon are the first to market with a physical store completely integrated with the latest technology… meaning minimal staff. Amazon have used computer learning, computer vision and AI to create a walk in, walk out store. No queuing, you just scan your QR code in the Amazon Go app on your way in, browse at your leisure, pick up what you want. You can even put it back, and you will not be charged for it and then you simply walk out. Upon leaving the store you can check that you’ve not been charged for anything you haven’t bought.

Jeff Bezos has recently acquired an upmarket supermarket chain, so all pointers suggest that he’ll be rolling out this technology across a larger estate in America. Then the world? Why not? It seems like this is the perfect way to buy FMGC in our opinion, all the items we need daily but must go through the rigmarole of the checkouts, even self-checkouts. This store concept has successfully taken away those friction points in the buying process. Get us to the USA!

A 100% unmanned pop-up store in Singapore, selling mobile plans, phones and accessories. The store is open 24/7, is completely unmanned and dispenses products to customers once a payment has been made. What makes this an interesting concept, is that a customer can interact with advisors via a live video call from within the store. Customers can receive advice on products via the video call but Singtel have also combined AI technology to personalise the experience. Facial recognition is used to establish if the customer is an existing customer, allowing for a more personalised interaction with the advisor providing the customer to receive bespoke offers.

In the complicated world of mobile phones and the contracts that come with them, this looks like an interesting way to ensure 1-2-1 advice and engagement is given albeit via a video call, which we believe is needed for high involvement purchases. A plus for Singtel is they must be saving on staff costs and reaping the benefits of a 24/7 store that allows them to monitor the quality of the advisors as they are presumably all under one roof. Gimmick or the way forward?

Without directly discussing a retail environment as such by more so discussing the brand holistically. Sir Richard Branson lives by the rule of put your staff 1st, your customers 2nd and your stakeholders 3rd. As controversial as it may sound, it totally makes sense. Branson believes that by looking after his staff they become happier in their work and will go the extra mile to ensure customers are fully catered for. This ultimately increases customer experience and spend, and thus shareholder return. Branson also believes listening and acting on what his staff feedback from the frontline is what turns an average business into an exceptional business. So, we don’t think we will ever see a staff less environments from the Virgin Group because its quite clear that their staff are the most important thing to the business.

There is an opportunity for brands to focus on how to maximise customers time for positive experiences but also remove or simplify unwanted friction points of the customer journey such as payment, queuing and stock checks. Others have looked to automation for the removal of these friction points but have ended up causing more friction points.

We believe a bit of both can work in synergy to create an enhanced customer experience.

All the examples we discussed seem to be benefitting from their approach but there’s seems to be a fine line between when the removal of staff completely or keeping them at the forefront of your brand. We feel its very dependant of the sector you operate in but if you find that line, you’ll reap the rewards. With the advances in totally digitally led shopping now coming to the forefront we see that there are two channels of retail emerging. Commodity and experience retail. Again, relatable to the sector you operate in.

Although online shopping experiences are far from perfect, ensuring that you’re in-store experience is as easy and convenient as your desktop and mobile offering, can make the difference between consumers shopping with your brand or purchasing a similar product from one of your competitors. And let’s face it, we want to create an experience and environment that customers think WOW and shout about for the right reasons.

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