Eleanor Jukes

Eleanor Jukes

Property Strategist

LGIM Real Assets

The importance of human touch

Eleanor Jukes, Property Strategist, LGIM Real Assets, looks at why in-store service is more than just showcasing. Do property owners need to worry about customer service?

Eleanor Jukes

Let’s unpack what in-store shopping means today, if you excuse the pun. A retailer can sell a product to a consumer, deliver an experience or offer a service. Three ways through which to engage with a customer face-to-face, and in these omni-channel days you can’t really have one without the other (two).

If you are the owner of retail property, you have an equally large amount of change to content with and the ability to respond will differentiate the winners from the losers. Whilst the retailer is usually the first point of contact, it is just as vital that property owners are conversant in how to connect with customers. This means that long gone are the adversarial days of ‘owner vs. occupier’; today’s measure of success is the alignment of interests between both parties to deliver the most productive retail experience.    

We are all familiar with shops as a point of sale; indeed, between 75% - 85% of goods bought still involve money going into a physical till. And we are well exposed to the many experiences a day at the shops can offer: personalised messages on your phone as you walk through the door of an Apple store or an opportunity to lose yourself in the behemoth that is Topshop Oxford Circus. Questioning your own sanity as you battle city centre crowds on the last shopping day before Christmas….  

But what about the third and final retail dimension: service? One small noun, so many stereotypes! Toadying shop assistants that fawn and flatter, or glacial Bond Street-style service designed to intimidate. Buttoned-up butlers who treat their customers with detached reserve. Or “service” that is delivered by self-checkouts and lockers.

By definition, service is the action of one person helping another. Good service is more nuanced: a staff member talking you through a product range, helping you create a personalised product, offering advice and guidance, or even just opening an extra till to reduce the queue time. There is a unifying theme across this list: the interaction between people. In these Big Data times, being human can quickly become a USP for a savvy retailer.

Service is more than just showcasing stock; it can encourage a customer to see a store in a completely different light. This has numerous benefits for a retailer: it fosters customer loyalty, facilitates upselling, supports other ‘touch points’ and creates a valuable feedback loop between business and customer. Delivering good service also aligns with those mega-trends we keep talking about, namely personalisation and convenience. You only need to think about the increasing popularity of personal shopping to understand how much shoppers value their spare time and desire to preserve it.

Encouragingly, good service is not limited to our friends across the Atlantic. During a visit to beauty store Lush you will be personally guided through the range to find the right product for you, whilst O2 stores will issue you with a virtual ‘deli ticket’ to see a salesperson so you don’t have to queue in-store. We can’t talk about service without mentioning John Lewis, but this is an area where smaller retailers often excel - they can be more dynamic; spotting problems quickly or delivering seamless service across platforms. 

Do property owners need to worry about customer service? Repeat visits and higher spend are obvious benefits, but in a system obsessed with revenue it can be hard to look at the bigger picture. By focusing on space, systems and staff, owners of retail property can work with their tenants to create the best in-store service environment. 

Building flexible space that can be configured to meet brand standards is important, because one size does not fit all. Ensuring there is future-proofed digital infrastructure embedded within a centre that allows retailers to bolt on their own systems will encourage engagement with customers across channels. Importantly, efficient deployment of both of these factors allows staff to be fully consumer-centric – offering great, human-level service.

And don’t forget that service goes beyond the store. Owners can directly assist shoppers by including customer service desks, clear signage and way-finding within their schemes, even the wrapping of presents at Christmas! Customer connection can happen across the retail pathway and is not limited to where the point of sale is located. This means that successful ownership today is a better understanding of the tenant; their business, spatial requirements and direction of travel, then working in partnership to deliver a customer-centric experience.  

We are becoming so focused upon numbers, metrics and systems, when sometimes all that is needed is some good old-fashioned customer service. So next time an assistant asks how they can help you today – tell them, it’s what they’re there for!

This article orignally featured in CoStar