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WOW! The element of [pleasant] surprises

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There is a compelling argument for retail theatrics. At a time when the four Ps of marketing – Product, Price, Placement and Promotion – seem inadequate in influencing an increasing demanding customer, retailers need to constantly create differentiation to stand out and be noticed. Individualisation is the key. And retailers have many tools at their disposal to create truly standout ‘wow’ experiences – from constant fresh in merchandise to out-of-the-box presentation and retail design ideas, to exceptional customer service.

In fact, a survey of Canadian and American shoppers conducted last month – by Retail Council of Canada, Verde Group and the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School — found that employee engagement and a great “brand experience” rank highest among factors contributing to an exceptional shopping encounter. Consumers in both countries indicate that polite staff who are genuinely interested in helping and who listen carefully to the customer’s wants and needs go a long way to leaving a lasting impression.

Making a case for tying ‘wow’ experiences to store loyalty, the study acknowledges that the compelling requirement for any retailer is to retain its consumers because they are generally considered as butterfly consumers who are, mostly, prone to brand switching. And this is true for even the supposedly most recession-proof of consumption categories – food and grocery. Even though everyone has to eat, consumers are not averse to shifting to a competitor or back to the neighbourhood vendor if not treated to some memorable ‘retail FX’ by modern trade.

Most retailers who read this will have known this for a long time. How many, however, are carrying conventional wisdom forward in pushing the envelope at execution. Not many, it would appear. At least that is what responses to one of our online polls seem to indicate.

Our question? A South Delhi shopper’s “wow” shopping moment came when a cashier noticed her strawberries were not as fresh as possible and retrieved a new box for her. How many times have you had a “wow” shopping moment at modern retail? a) 0; b) 1-5; c) More than 5.

And the responses?
Over 71 per cent of the respondents polled for choice (a) — (zero) times. Just over 21.05 per cent have had a ‘wow’ modern retail moment 1-5 times, while a mere 7.9 per cent of the audience had one more than five times.

While results of this poll are clearly not the last word in gauging the quality of modern shopping experiences in India, they do indicate that much remains to be done to upgrade the retail environment.

“Whole Foods Market takes food retailing to the next level – a most amazing range of organic and special food merchandised to perfection.”
— Viney Singh, MD, Max Hypermarket India Pvt. Ltd

We took the question back to where it emanates from – the retailers.

Manjula Tiwari, chief operating officer, Esprit, says, “Every time I have a great first impression backed up with quality, service and ambience, I have a ‘wow’ moment.” In her opinion, no one does ‘wow’ better than Esprit — and they can do this because they infuse freshness every month with a new collection and a completely new look and feel. “It’s a dozen guaranteed ‘wow’ moments in a year for me!” she adds.

Esprit abides by the philosophy of ‘one kitchen, many tables’. And the ‘oneness’ of the product line is maintained globally. Tiwari further underlines, “Every store and season in Esprit is a labour of love — and I’m glad it manifests itself as a fantastic experience for the customers. There is absolutely no compromise on the quality and fashion quotient of our offering, and similarly the experience surrounding that reflects the painstaking attention to detail, whether it is in store ambience or our retail staff.”

“We have a world-class loyalty program for our customers with an exciting range of benefits and rewards to encourage loyalty.”

Personalisation of service is an important factor in creating a connection with the customer and ensuring that the relationship is an enduring one, Tiwari concedes. Referring to the ‘wow’ factor in her stores she says, “At Esprit, we ensure that each and every customer is treated specially, with keen attention to the smallest of details. It’s this practice along with indisputable quality and ambience that makes Esprit such a well-loved brand with a great ‘wow’ factor.”

“To create a wow element in the store requires right merchandise mix, good location, helpful retail staff, etc,” notes Thomas Varghese, CEO, Aditya Birla Retail Limited. “Our new store in Indore has wowed everybody and created history by attracting 26,000 footfalls per day with large, 1 to 2-km lines outside the store every single day. The right product assortments and an extensive range of national and international branded products are enabling this.”

“I’ve rarely been disappointed in my food shopping sojourns in London. But during my last trip, I visited the Whole Foods Market store in Chelsea. This outlet takes food retailing to the next level – a most amazing range of organic and special food merchandised to perfection,” shares Viney Singh, MD, Max Hypermarket India Pvt. Ltd.

“At SPAR we try and create a superior shopping experience for our customers based on our philosophy of freshness, range, service and value. We constantly re invent ourselves in keeping with this thought process,” he adds. “Very recently, both of our Bangalore stores were re designed to create the concept of ‘worlds’ within the store with regard to our non-food categories. These worlds are: ‘Children’s World, Living World, Kitchen World and Bed and Bath World.’”

“The idea is to provide the customer the convenience of finding everything that she may require in one section rather than having to search the entire store. Each world is colour coded so the customer knows which section she is in (yellow for children, black for the kitchen, blue for the bed and bath and red for living) Our stores have been laid out to maximise product visibility, provide an improved ambience with special lighting and signage and ease the billing process by providing the maximum number of tills to ensure that the customer finds the entire shopping experience highly pleasurable,” Singh underlines.

On being asked how to create a ‘wow’ factor in a retail environment, Singh replies, “Always try to exceed the customer’s expectations in every sphere, be it in products, ambience, value and most particularly, service! Think from the customer’s perspective!”

Echoing this, Mukesh Gupta, director – operations, Morarka Organic Foods Pvt. Ltd. says, “As compared to being uncertain about the merchandise on offer and too many things in the store, the retailer should be selective in terms of items on offer. We have continuously been striving to meet our modern consumers’ expectations, simply to floor them.”

“To create a ‘wow’ factor in the store, optimum utilisation of space is required. With the real estate prices being so high, almost all stores look cramped, with plenty of clutter and overstocking. We have used only 12 per cent space for stocking and display; the balance has been kept for navigation and browsing. And for this we have earned plenty of appreciation,” he adds.

“Over many years, while travelling across the world, I have seen many retail outlets, but mostly textile- and lifestyle-related. In USA, Whole Foods Market has drawn the ‘wow’ reaction from me. Recently, during a visit to Bangalore, the Mother Earth outlet also entered this select group and elicited a similar response, which surprised me,” Gupta concludes, while sharing his ‘wow’ shopping moment at modern retail.

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