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Let's not forget the joy of shopping

There is a constant flow of articles, reports and research that reconfirm that the future of retail is all about ease, convenience, efficiency and immediacy – whether via seamless e-commerce, personalisation through analytics, self service and non-manned stores, AI, same day delivery as mandatory - and so many of our GenZ and Millennials seem to increasingly expect this as the norm. I’m all for the above but a couple of experiences recently reminded me about the need to remember the huge pleasure that can be enjoyed through the physical shop and ironically with increased focus on the 'experience economy’ there seems to be a missed opportunity for brands and retailers to revitalise and celebrate the joy of shopping.

I’ve just come back from a couple of lovely weeks’ break in France. Our local village had the most incredible indoor market open every morning – ripe with the scent of fresh produce, vibrant and seductive with beautifully presented food to entice experimentation and purchase. Specialists in fish, vegetables, meat and dairy all celebrated their expertise, offering taste and trial, recommending new cuts or ingredients, choosing produce for when you wanted to serve it (melons for today or tomorrow Madame?) and celebrating their niche. There was not just a cheese stall but one chap who sold goats cheese only or the ‘jam man’ with his homemade wares. It was an Aladdin’s cave of irresistible deliciousness that inspired trial and warmed the soul – reminding us that food isn’t just a necessary convenience but something to be enjoyed, explored and relished.

Now, I know that wondering around in my espadrilles and struggling with my so-so French on holiday is very different to my rushed weekly shop in Sainsbury’s or placing a late night Ocado order during a frantic week. However, it was a very vivid reminder that we should ensure our obsession with convenience doesn’t kill the joy of the physical shop and how retailers and brands can balance the best of both worlds – creating effective and efficient online content balanced against creating exciting brand and retail experiences that can inspire exploration and experimentation? Only 12% of Millennials say that supermarkets inspire their cooking (Haygarth Inspiration Generation Report, 2015), so I’m not the only one thinking that food shopping in particular could be made more dynamic.

My other recent brush with the benefits of a good old fashioned shop was with my 16 year old son Louis. He had for the first time earned some money (hoorah!) through some work experience and decided to spend his first pay check on a new electric guitar and came down to show me options online. I suggested that before making such a key purchase, it would be worth trying some of the models and why didn’t he go to a shop to ask advice. Now of course, like most teenagers, Louis would rather stick pins in his eyes than go solo to a shop for advice, so one lunch hour I found myself inside the magnificent Wunjo guitars off Charing Cross Rd with Louis surrounded by hundreds of guitars and a fantastic salesman Sebastian. Sebastian’s incredible knowledge and expertise, kind charm and courtesy with Louis was wonderful to behold; encouraging him try 4 different guitars, advising him on the right model to suit his style, recommending not the highest price but the one that suited Louis most and throwing in deals on the case, strings and connection lead. We of course bought in the shop rather than buying online – 78% of shoppers say that 'sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range' is the most important factor for the in-store shopping experience (PWC Total Retail, 2017).

Many retailers often forget how key customer service is to the store experience and often their corporate structure separates staff from the marketing and retail team, meaning there is not a seamless or informed journey for consumers. For the retail experience to stay strong and differentiated and deliver the immersion consumers are looking for and really impact conversion, retailers need to spend more time on inspiring, incentivising and motivating their staff and ensure that they have a level of expertise and know-how to help and advise shoppers to find their perfect choice.

So in conclusion, I will, like everyone else, continue to weave on and offline to buy what I want when I want it but just a reminder to us all that shopping can be fun, immersive, educating and entertaining, and retailers and brands who focus on effective and engaging inspiration and excellence in customer service can drive incremental sales through encouraging new trial and experimentation - let’s not lose sight of that in the technology fuelled pursuit of convenience and efficiency.

Written by Sophie Daranyi