PwC’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey shows that even though mobile shopping is growing in popularity, people still shop in physical stores more than twice as often as they do on their smartphones, tablets or PCs. Consumers clearly value the in-store experience, even as they’re gravitating to digital.
PwC thinks companies that want to be on the leading edge of customer service will need to find ways to blend physical and digital experiences. Susan Lenderink, chief financial officer of the Dutch retailer de Bijenkorf — owned by the same family that runs Britain’s Selfridges — talked with us in February 2019 about some of the most effective ways that high-end retailers are driving store traffic and tying those physical store visits with the online experience.
PwC: E-commerce is now a pretty strong part of your business, isn’t it?
Susan Lenderink: Yes, and our performance is ahead of the market. It’s driven by online because online is becoming a bigger and bigger share of our total turnover. But the actual stores are also performing really well. So even while we’re celebrating double-digit growth in online, of course the biggest share of our sales comes from stores.
PwC: You have a major flagship store in Amsterdam’s city centre. Can you talk a little about how the company tailors the physical store experience to keep people coming back?
Lenderink: A couple of years ago, we decided we wanted to be a real destination — a flagship store of international allure. So we closed a few of our smaller stores and, in those stores we kept open, heavily invested in order to create a shopping experience on an international top level.
This also meant creating a first-class experience in a number of areas: fashion shows, really exclusive member events with special chefs, or perhaps a chance to privately view the new collections. It’s all about providing an experience to make our customers feel special.
PwC: How important are your store associates to the customer experience?
Lenderink: We heavily invest in our people in several ways. We start by communicating our mission: to be the most creative, inspiring and surprising department store in the Netherlands. Two years ago we said everybody was special — not only our customers, but also our employees.
How do we live up to this declaration? In a number of ways: we offer a good compensation plan and training. Every new employee has a two-day session to learn about our mission and values. We also have implemented role-playing exercises to practice creating great experiences for customers or dealing with unusual situations in the store. So it’s about showing employees they are not just replaceable cogs in the store, that we really value their knowledge of our store and our mission.
PwC: How do you fuse that in-person and e-commerce experience for your customers?
Lenderink: The most important thing is ensuring that we speak to our customers with one voice. There should not be a difference between our message online and our message in-store. There are many parts to this: the ability to get the same products on the web and in-store, the ability to get a product delivered in the same way, the ability to enjoy the experience, no matter the channel. For example, we now have personal shoppers available for customers shopping in the store and shopping online.
To achieve these parallels, we’ve had to sometimes change how we are organised. Certain functions created under the e-commerce umbrella, it turned out, should have been integrated with head office functions.
PwC: This year’s survey results have us talking about ‘return on experience,’ or ROX, to emphasise that companies need to find a way to measure the return they are getting on all of their different investments in customer touchpoints. With your CFO hat on, do you see a distinction between investments in the business versus investments in the customer experience?
Lenderink: If we look to the big investments in our stores, then indeed they are about ROX. We want to provide a very different experience from other department stores. And we’ve made a lot of investments in online experience as well.
For instance, we’ve invested in our social media to monitor and anticipate certain trends, and to try to offer personalised content. In terms of investing in experience, personalisation is probably the key word. It extends to how we communicate and also guides the products and services we are offering.