Independent food and beverage retailers in this country, and all over the world, have always been the innovators when it comes to customer experience.
Thinking back, many modern retail experiences were tested and measured by independent retailers, such as stores within stores and in-store bank branches, before chain stores adopted these ideals.
In the late-1980s, Jim Fleming, the owner of Jewel Food Stores, opened a branch in Mt Druitt, NSW, that incorporated an attached petrol station.
Customers spending a certain amount in-store were entitled to a ‘cents-per-litre’ discount at the petrol station.
This innovation was the first of its kind for a retailer in Australia.
Fast forward to today, and it’s unimaginable that big giants Coles and Woolworths wouldn’t offer a fuel discount with purchases from their stores.
That’s just an example of how independent food and beverage retailers have been the incubators of customer experience.
Unfortunately, a lot of retailers have the mindset that customer experience is solely based on full shelves in the grocery section, with items lined up like tiny tin soldiers, when, in reality, it’s about the human experience.
Consumers have expectations about pricing, appealing store environments and the engagement of the senses. Focusing on these three aspects is what turns customers into fans.
V stands for visual senses
Here, you want customers to clearly see what your store is offering.
Consider Aldi supermarkets. There’s no doubt they are communicating ‘cheap prices’.
The stores are not fully lit, and stock is often on pallets.
Aldi stores at every visual level are communicating ‘we are cheap, don’t expect service’.
A stands for audio
You want the environment to be welcoming.
Music can and does affect our mood.
Think about the loud PA addresses at an airport and how that can irritate you more than not having a seat.
K stands for kinaesthetic
This means the environment that you’ve created is tactile.
In other words, your customers can touch, smell and taste.
A good example would be when customers can take recipes from a pad placed next to relevant ingredients.
Tommy Bahama: A case study in VAK
We all perceive differently, and a lot of businesses fail to appreciate these three ways that we like to receive our information.
Have you ever been shopping at fashion retailer Tommy Bahama? So much can be learnt from this retailer.
All three of the VAK sensors are present in-store and work so well.
For example, if you go to buy a shirt, the layout of the store will funnel you through the whole premises, and therefore, you’ll experience hats, shoes and accessories on your way to the shirts.
Once there, you will be surrounded by belts, shorts and hats that perfectly match the shirt you’re looking to buy.
Tommy Bahama has simplified the process of colour coding and presents an image to you by engaging all of the VAK principles, therefore building the desire in you to swap your cash (or card) for an image and a feeling.
In a competitive industry such as food and beverage, price is important, however, it isn’t everything.
The last interaction with your business is what customers will remember much longer than the price.
I’m sure you can remember hearing your family and friends tell you about a fantastic customer service experience they had.
Three tweaks to improve your in-store experience
Here are some super relevant tactics you can immediately use in smaller retail stores that will make a massive difference and cost you very little.
1. Store tour
The number one most successful tactic I can give you is to ‘walk your store every day’.
Take along a notepad and be hard on yourself.
Start outside your store in the car park, and then walk your shop floor.
Successful customer experience should lead your customer to items you want them to take notice of and purchase.
You will be amazed at what simple changes and improvements you can create.
2. Get rid of the clutter
Smaller grocery stores should pay special attention to this.
Get rid of any floor display that impedes visual line of sight or gets in the way of customers moving freely.
This can also include taking down any outdated signage. Implement a clean isle policy and stick to it.
If customers liked cluttered isles, then don’t you think stores such Woolworths would have them climbing over floor displays everywhere?
A lot of thought should go into storytelling because the message needs to be able to pass the AIDA test.
A for attention
A display that your customers didn’t expect to see grabs their attention.
For example, if you’re a gaming store, could you contact Red Bull energy drinks and allow them to build a Red Bull experience in your store?
I for interest
If you own a cafe, highlight a chef’s signature dish or house speciality in the items on your menu, which gives you the highest gross profit.
By doing this, you immediately draw customer interest to these products.
D for desire
Smell can play a massive role in storytelling.
If you own a cafe, consider placing a small bowl of beans on your counter and invite customers to ‘smell today’s unique blend’.
A for action
The purpose of your business is to solve a problem or fulfil a need that your customer has.
As an example, if a customer comes in to buy makeup remover, wouldn’t it be nice to offer them facial wipes as part of the cross-sell?
After all, it would be frustrating for them to get home and realise they didn’t have any.
Building an attractive display of these facial wipes that is no more than half a meter from the checkout, will help people buy.
Offer purchasing suggestions to your customers. Don’t assume they know.