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Retail Reflections: The shopping ‘experience’ and customer satisfaction

Alan Monahan writes: You’ll know that these days it’s not enough just to go shopping. You are also invited to enjoy the ‘experience’. Open a newspaper or magazine and THAT word jumps out of the page as stores and trade shows demonstrate how they are reinventing themselves in the wake of dwindling customer numbers and declining revenues.

 

Now, Barclaycard’s new research into the value of the ‘experience’ economy suggests a disconnect between consumer and business priorities. It says that with Brits favouring being engaged and entertained when deciding how to spend their money, brands need to do more to match their increasing expectations.

The findings show that more than half of consumers would rather pay for a good experience – there’s that word again – than splash out on material possessions. And the same number would choose to tell their friends and peers about an enjoyable brand experience rather than a purchase they’ve made.

Indeed, the research shows that such is the significance that Brits now place on having a good time that the experience a brand provides is almost equally as important as receiving value for money.

This seems to indicate there is huge opportunity for brands willing to prioritise the experience they offer – whether that’s through creating pop-up shops in unexpected locations or offering something additional in-store.

Festivals are becoming increasingly popular locations for brands to engage with their target audience, with nearly six in 10 consumers saying they enjoy finding brands and retailers in non-traditional locations and 23% visiting a pop-up store in the last year. A further two-thirds suggested they respond positively to brands which surprise them with unexpected experiences or offers.

Despite the value that investing in the experience economy presents, just 28% of businesses say it’s an area of focus. The top reasons given by brands for not prioritising experience are a shortage of expertise, followed by a lack of financial resources.

It doesn’t surprise me one little bit that John Lewis has a director of customer experience. He’s Peter Cross, who has been talking about ‘bringing the intimacy, luxury and magic of personal shopping to the high street’. Its ‘ultimate bespoke’ experience allows an individual or group to book the whole of its new Cheltenham store after it has closed for the day to exclusively create and enjoy their own shopping journey. So, if you have £10,000 floating around – that’s the minimum spend for this Private Shopping spree – I’m sure they’ll be pleased to hear from you.

John Lewis has been taking a bit of stick on social media about this initiative. One disaffected shopper suggested that the retailer should get a grip of its daytime in-store service before worrying about the wealthy.

But it’s only fair to point out that its other ‘experiences’ at the Cheltenham branch are free and without a minimum spend. The Shopping List service allows customers to book an appointment, take along a list of their requirements and leave it to a John Lewis Partner to do the rest. Or they can book their own ‘Gift Guru’ who will help them tick off their Christmas gift list.

It’s rubbish to suggest that there is no such thing as bad publicity. And I suspect that the department store chain’s bosses won’t be turning cartwheels of joy over a headline in The Times last week which proclaimed, ‘Middle classes are losing faith in John Lewis’.

The accompanying story said that more than two-thirds of 5,300 reviews of John Lewis on the feedback website Trustpilot give it one star out of five, while the number of bad reviews has escalated this year.

The paper went on to report the retailer’s comment that reviews on Trustpilot are not representative of its customer experiences and that the Institute of Customer Service ranks John Lewis second among British companies for customer satisfaction. However, the chain acknowledges that it has suffered some problems, particularly regarding the home furnishing department.

John Lewis also points out that Trustpilot is a paid-for service that brings benefit to companies that subscribe. ‘We are not a full paying member, therefore none of the reviews from our website are included in our Trustpilot score,’ comments a spokeswoman. She also says that the average rating on the JLP website is 4.3 out of 5 of nearly one million reviews.

John Lewis has owned up about the challenges it experienced when launching a new home services operation and apologised unreservedly to any customer who ‘did not receive the high level of service they rightly expect’.

Social media and feedback websites are making businesses more accountable. They receive brickbats – some vindictive – as well as bouquets and most have learned to take the bad along with the good.

Of course, it’s absolute tosh to suggest that ‘the customer is always right’. When Harry Gordon Selfridge – founder of London department store Selfridges – coined that slogan in 1909 he could never have known how it would come back to bite retailers on the bum. But then, more than a hundred years ago, Harry couldn’t have foreseen – even in his wildest imaginings – the extraordinary changes that would revolutionise our industry.

So, I applaud the latest John Lewis initiatives to get people through its doors (isn’t that the aim of every bricks and mortar retailer?) by creating ‘experiences’.

But, as an occasional shopper in its stores, I do believe that it has some way to go before it reaches the heights of customer service that it once scaled.

And even though, many years ago, I was mistaken in its Watford branch for one of the shop floor staff, that’s not something I can help them with.