NAB takes a bite out of Apple with design for new retail branches

Apple has always been lauded for its engaging stores, and now the staid world of banking has followed suit with branches designed to engage the senses, and eventually boost your credit line.

National Australia Bank unveiled the first of five prototype retail stores yesterday, in Melbourne’s Docklands. Its open-plan branch is equipped with iPads, laptops, do-it-yourself technology and free-range staff.

The branches comprise scented air, free WiFi, music and TVs, and “intelligent deposits machines” which can take money and cheques in the same transaction.

Employees work in open work stations, and back-office staff are visible.

NAB says the new branches “herald a new era of banking in Australia” and follows “an analysis of the very best retailers from across the world”.

“NAB also considered the ‘science of shopping’, worked with shopper researchers and created a test lab – a mock store in a Melbourne warehouse – to observe customers in a real-life setting in order to refine the final store design,” it says.

Brian Walker, the Retail Doctor, says the formats are designed to “make retail banking compelling” and “increase dwell time” – and of course boost business.

Walker, who has worked with NAB, says the biggest challenge for retail banks is to keep their formats productive when online banking is so popular.

“They’re also trying to break down the historical positioning of banks such that they’re far more user-friendly and contemporary,” Walker says.

Walker says NAB has likely taken note of Apple’s focus on customer interactivity.

“Apple’s all about creativity and technology and wonderment. I don’t think banks are in the same category but what is interesting and where I think the banks are taking note is the whole interactivity, being able to touch screens, self-manage their needs,” he says.

But he stresses that whiz-bang branches must be complemented by top-notch service.

“Will these formats be functional? Yes, they are, but so much of it depends on what happens in each individual store, their management and how end back-end processes work,” Walker says.

“If it still takes X amount long to process a credit application, no amount of attractive format, appearance, display, layout will change that.”

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