More than ever retailers are seeking ways to enhance customer experience in stores.
Faced with consumers who are showing an increasing unwillingness to dip their hands into their pockets or even visit local high streets at all, there has rarely been a greater need for traders to improve the attractiveness of their stores.
Ex-Radio One DJ Bruno Brookes, who has a track record in entertaining audience having presented the weekly Top 40 countdown to millions of listeners in the 1980s and 1990s, believes retailers must take action now to increase customer satisfaction and boost sales.
“Retailers are currently going through a consultation period with themselves as they try to understand what they need to do and how they attract new business,” he told Retail Gazette.
“Over the last few years they have recognised that they must create an experience in store – they are not just shifting boxes anymore – and they must also communicate a greater deal.”
After ditching the microphone over a decade ago now, Brookes began running communication company Immedia, which specialises in providing in-store solutions for retailers.
Be it unique radio shows for a particular business - convenience retailer Spar and fashion chain Topshop are two high profile clients that take advantage of this service - or digital signage, Immedia aims to make the overall shopping environment better for everyone involved.
Brookes’ business also offers those operating in retail various tools and solutions which can be added to their artilleries in the ongoing battle to boost customer numbers, often by providing applications that help stimulate that impulsive behaviour lying within each of us.
It could be a marketing message over the radio system or it might be a visual image that convinces a customer why they might benefit from purchasing a particular product; Brookes’ company aims to offer multi-sensory services that strike a chord with a specific shopper demographic at a specific time.
“Retail theatre was the best term invented, around five or six years ago, to get businesses to understand what is required in terms of enhancing experience in stores,” the ex-DJ notes.
“Something needs to trigger a shopper’s senses to make that purchase – and that’s what we do.”
But it is not just the experience of the shopper that is important; the three million strong workforce that keeps the UK’s largest private sector industry running also needs attention if it is going to provide the service required to maintain customer loyalty against a tough economic backdrop.
A recent study by Retail Eyes and Retail Gazette found that 84 per cent of retail staff would not recommend their company as a place to work, which is perhaps a sad indictment of the both the way many of them are treated at work and the environments in which they operate.
“Often, staff are not valued enough - my evidence from recent years is that it is all about costs,” Brookes agrees.
“One example I’ve come across is an aspirational brand, where none of the staff could afford the products they were selling – and it annoyed them.
“There should be more schemes where staff are allowed to wear products from the brands they represent. If staff have a greater pride in their company it can improve service.”
Immedia supplies a radio service in furniture retailer Ikea’s 22 UK stores, broadcasting 24 hours a day and keeping both dayshift and nightshift staff entertained.
“We get 600 personal requests a week from Ikea employees, who want to hear specific songs, announce a birthday or just get a mention.”
Last week Spar announced that it had signed a five-year contract extension with Immedia which will see the communications firm run the Spar Live radio show in stores across the UK.
As well as music, chat and providing an information service, the show will be used by the convenience specialist to promote its new own-label economy range S Budget, which is set to launch in the UK for the first time later this month.
However, there will be no cameo appearance from the former Radio One star, who jokes that despite his extensive experience in broadcasting he is “hopeless” at presenting and that there are “much better presenters around now”.
Brookes is still passionate about music though, and he thinks that the medium can be used – in conjunction with other sensory stimulators – to huge benefit in the retail industry, both in terms of entertaining staff and enhancing the power of a brand.
Other retail clients of his include healthcare product provider Lloydspharmacy and entertainment specialist Game, as well as a number of the major high street banks. As more and more companies look at ways of maintaining contentment levels of staff and customers this list could grow significantly in the months ahead.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the retail industry is thinking about creating experiences more scientifically than before, as part and parcel of their offer,” argues Brookes.
“While retailers are putting together their ‘Stores of the Future’, they are insisting that these stores must be future proof. They need to do things right now, or risk having to revisit it later down the line.”