The Retail Expo 2019
What retailers can learn from an Edwardian store owner from Wisconsin

The Household team headed to Kensington for the annual Retail Expo. The standout theme from the event was the importance of building trust in a data rich retail environment.

During the golden age of the Edwardian department store, Harry Selfridge famously advised retailers to “Treat [the customer] as guests when they come and when they go, whether or not they buy.” Retailers today could learn a lot from Mr Selfridge’s advice.

Creating a memorable brand experience

The importance of prioritising relationship building over transaction is not a new message. It is at the heart of our work at Household, from designing the tactile Sleep Studio for The White Company to putting the fun back into shopping with the Amazon Treasure Truck. However, we noticed a definite mentality shift at the Retail Expo this year. More key players understood the benefits of creating a memorable brand experience and are investing accordingly; 85% of US customers are likely to make a purchase after participating in a brand’s events and experiences (Stylus, 2019).

With the customer at the heart, we have seen a return to the two key tenants of Harry Selfridge’s retail model – experience and service. Of course, the retail landscape has vastly changed since the 1900s. But the new tech developments we are monitoring, are using the best of modern advancements to augment and improve the store experience, rather than reinventing it.

The rise of clienteling platforms

The man who famously coined the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ would undoubtedly have been on board with the standout retail tech development at this year’s Retail Expo – clienteling platforms.

We know that service sells and as brands look to personalise and streamline the shopping experience, there is a growing market for tech platforms that can facilitate this. We were interested to see the likes of Tulip and Shopi at the Expo, mobile platforms that equip store associates to build relationships with customers, personalise recommendations and improve back-of-house inventory efficiency. Bonobo’s service-focused Guideshops, which partner with Tulip to empower store associates, are a Household favourite. We will increasingly see this hyper-personalised service model becoming the norm.

Legacy retailers adopting new tech

For legacy retailers, new innovations like digital clienteling platforms will undoubtedly pose more implementation barriers than for new digital native brands. Take the Sainsbury’s Smart Shop app, which required multiple testing stages and manual work arounds to navigate legacy systems, before successful implementation.

Legacy retailers and brands will have to acknowledge their history, current infrastructure and organisational silos in order to push beyond challenges. Flexible work arounds to existing systems will facilitate quick customer trial, stakeholder buy in and investment, and give the push to actually reinvent systems to integrate new tech solutions well.

Building trust in a data rich retail landscape

From clienteling to digital payment, these new tech solutions paint a data heavy landscape. For this model to succeed, building trust with customers is paramount. In an Edwardian retail setting Harry Selfridge wrote, “Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage.” The same still stands to an extent, yet there is now a trust deficit in big business that is not so easy to overcome. To add a 21st century retail voice to the mix, in the words of Caroline Laurie, (Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher) in today’s landscape, “Once you have gained the customer’s trust you have to fight hard to protect it.”

Brands and retailers will need to invest continually in building a trusted relationship with customers. But the effort will be worth it, as brand-customer relationships built on trust will be the most long-lasting, and commercially rewarding. Above all, make it functional, make it simple and be patient.

If you have any questions about how your brand can build trust with your customers, email Executive Strategy Director Michelle at [email protected].

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