Self-service brick & mortar stores don’t make sense. Removing the human component from the transaction results in just an exchange of goods and services for money, devoid of any connection. Customers want a human touch, even if they don’t know it. Once it happens, the customer looks forward to a repeat performance. The associates make a difference and without them, you leave your customer vulnerable to the competition. Every company should think twice about self-service – it is rent being paid for no good reason. Better to put more dollars into an e-commerce site and closing the physical locations.
The other day I was invited to a new retailing concept – a pop-up store filled with digital displays, iPad’s and various electronic shelving. If a customer wanted to know where a handbag was made, it could be picked up from the electronic shelf and all the detailed product information appeared. My host thought it was cool; I wasn’t impressed. There were also digital displays where a customer could type in a question. I wanted ask, “Why aren’t there any sales people in the store?” but decided not to be rude.
We often hear the phrase, “I’m not sure what they were thinking.” The “they” in this instance are retailers. Retailers should learn lessons from e-commerce. Most e-commerce sites are completely devoid of person to person interaction. A customer is viewing one company’s site, looking at a great sweater and in seconds a pop-up screen appears with a similar sweater for a lower price. The customer hits the pop-up and it takes you to yet to another business; a lost opportunity for either generating a first time or repeat customer.
Back to the physical store. If you are going to have a physical store, fill it with associates who can create and build customer relationships. Associates who are properly trained and want to help and serve customers. Research has shown that customers who are “repeat customers” spend significantly more the second time than the first and that makes logical sense. And I know from research that the biggest driver of a customer coming back, a repeat customer, is to have the same person who helped them the first time, help them again. That’s a connection and it’s not self-serve.
The check out in any store is important. Safe to say I’m not a big fan of self-service check-out stations since most of the time they don’t work well and it’s awkward to fill the small sized bags with big items and have the system register the price correctly. How many times do you have to get help with the key to reset the machine. Whenever there is a call for the key, you know that’s an extra 5 minute wait. My local CVS replaced some of the cashiers with self-service stations. My first thought – penny-wise and pound foolish. But, to my delight, most of the cashiers were placed in the aisles to help customers find what they were looking for. The other day, at least 3 people asked to help me and one went into the storage room to try and find an item I wanted. That was a good business decision; associates were not removed just repositioned to better serve customers.
In this climate of start-ups, global economies and big players as Amazon, your business is under attack every day. Making your brick & mortar stores devoid of human associates will quickly make it devoid of human customers.
What do you think?