I am not here to write yet another apologia about the state of the telecommunications market. Nor am I going to write another blog post praising Apple’s retail stores. I wanted to point out some of the treacherous pitfalls that organizations fall into when trying to upgrade their retail experience. I have been a long-time customer of Orange — for work and at home. I needed to change my contract so I was advised to go to this “concept” store on the Champs Elysées in Paris. I know, for sure, that Orange does intend to do it well.
Retail Experience: The Welcome
So, to start off, they have a member of staff standing by the stairs (once inside) whose role is to welcome and orient you. In my case, unfortunately, the young woman almost took pleasure in bossing people coming in to make them wait their turn (after me)! Intentions and execution are two different beasts. I was informed that I should go to the Work Station. Of course, she might as well have told me to go to a GPS coordinate. Fortunately, someone inside was able to show me the way to the Work Station at the back of the store.
Inside, the ambiance is very warm and inviting. The lighting is agreeable. The colors and layout of the various products are appetizing. There’s plenty of space. Samsung’s Virtual Reality was on display, albeit behind a plexi frame.
Further toward the back, there is a playful area with a “family room” feeling. However….
…no sooner had I taken this photograph, than a security guard came over to me and told me that photographs were not allowed. I was stumped. A concept store to show off your innovative style… and no desire for others to share? Not exactly what happens in an Apple store… I guess there is no mixing apples and oranges, after all.
An immersive customer experience?
The concept of an immersive customer experience in a retail store will vary according to the brand and to the segment. Orange has clearly set out in this case to create some inviting — even engaging – experiences. However, maybe because the store wasn’t very full, there was little buzz or excitement among the staff. I was not approached by anyone else in my visit, other than the security guard and sales rep I met at the Work Station.
The customer journey
One of the bigger challenges for a retailer is managing and/0r tracking an individual that goes around the store. Unlike a luxury store, there is no ‘ownership’ of the client, so he/she can be left up to his own devices (so to speak). While there was a woman at the reception to guide me on my initial request, there was no further thought given to lead or inspire me. Once I arrived at the Work Station, I was greeted after no more than 5 minutes, by a rather standard salesperson. Courteous but hardly warm. After a very brief discussion, I was told we had to go back to the front of the store, right behind where the “welcome” lady was stationed. Hum. Not very effective.
Digital store, yet sales PEOPLE …
As digital as a store might wish to be, replete with wifi, loads of digital gadgets and tools to try, the reality is that the quality of the retail experience resides squarely on the role of the people. In this case, as the conversation continued, the salesperson could hardly have been less empathic or inquisitive. I was definitely just a number to him. Moreover, the number on me in the computer was only half-way forthcoming in details about me, so he wasn’t able to know more about my consumption or habits. Thus, he was without means (even if he had the will) to provide a customized service and advice for my needs.
The “partnership” between supplier and retailer
Of course, any store depends on its product (or services) it is retailing. A store that is owned by the brand whose sole products it is selling is in a very different configuration than a multi-brand retailer. Even if the former (example Apple) comes with its own pitfalls, the challenge is much more dramatic for the multi-brand retailer. Making the different retail brands come alive is in the interests of the brands and the customers. However, the incentive is a bit confused for the retailer, especially in a confrontational marketplace. Allowing the suppliers to be too powerful in the store upsets the apple cart of power. As a direct reflection of this issue, the battle between telecommunications providers (Orange, Free…) and the phone suppliers (Apple, Samsung, Sony…) is rather topical and has been very crude. In France, there have been lawsuits brought notably against rainmaker, Apple, for unfair practices. You can read about the recent fining of Apple here in 9-to-5 Mac.
In conclusion, to create an exceptional retail experience takes a lot of hard work. I would argue that it needs to start with a strong overall brand, where the language, behaviors and codes are consistent inside and outside the company and can be expressed in full public view. As anecdotal as it may seem, in today’s environment, in 2016, it seems highly improbable that a store that does not allow photographs inside the store has a winning mindset. Moreover, the motivation, training and facilitation by the store staff are elemental. Furthermore, when the staff don’t have visibility on the customer’s data, how on earth are they to provide a personalized service. His answer: go to the site and figure it out yourself!
: Room to squeeze a bit more pulp out of this Orange.