So what is brand experience? For us at Blueleaf, it's the intangible sum of all the experiences a brand gives its customers throughout their journey.
"Customers are becoming ever-more demanding, as they seek high quality, cross-channel experiences and increased levels of engagement from brands".
IMRG, the UK’s Online Retail Association
In this three part blog series, we highlight three retailers and address the overall experience they give.
Millennials now make up the majority of the workforce in the US (and soon to be UK too) and that signals a seismic shift in behaviour. True Digital Natives are now the big spenders and retailers need to change rapidly to keep afloat amongst their pressures. Many customers are not prepared to put up with cross-channel differences in their shopping experience; silos and disconnected experiences are no longer acceptable. This showcase looks at the brands that are getting it right. Slick overall experiences, well-connected channels and a customer-focused business.
So without further ado, let's start our look at brand experience, starting with US brand, Nordstrom...
This US retailer is not that well-known within the UK, which is a shame, because they’re best in class in so many ways. They invested in an inventory management system that meant they had a multichannel view of stock in 2002 and since then, they have been on a bender of technological progress. The key to this focus is seen in their purpose and culture. Before exploring that though, let's look at what they have done to innovate their brand experience.
Ahead of the curve
Since 2011, they have had modified iPod Touch devices checking people out anywhere in the store; they call it ‘Scan & Shop’. This is when many UK retailers still haven't figured out how to WiFi enable their stores. In the year these devices were introduced they experienced a surge of retail sales and an increase in Average Order Value (AOV) too. Not a coincidence according to them. As of their last annual report, there were 18,000 handheld terminals banging out sales across their stores. No more queuing to check out at Nordstrom. In the same year they set up an innovation lab. A skunkworks of sorts, it came up with new ideas to push the business further. It took most retailers and other companies another 3-4 years to understand why this was needed. They went into store and built an iPad app in a week with direct customer feedback to help them try on sunglasses and share their photos with others. In one week, buying sunglasses was a better experience. We're still in 2011 remember
"We work hard to see our business through the eyes of the customer, and we hope Scan & Shop creates a more seamless shopping experience for our customers who enjoy browsing our catalogue but also enjoy the many benefits technology affords the experience to make it more personal."
Dan Evans Jr, spokesperson for Nordstrom
That's great and forward-thinking but it's old news you say, what have they done recently? Well this is where it starts to get really interesting. Their innovation lab had grown over the years and after 4 years it was time for a change. As the whole business continued to innovate, it became increasingly difficult to align the lab and the business units. So, in a move similar to what House of Fraser and other retailers are doing, they have scaled back the central innovation lab. They have deployed over half of the engineers and technologists into the business units directly - innovating from within. In particular they have deployed people to their customer experience centre. How many retailers even have one of these? Some of their latest in-store innovations come in the form of fitting room mirrors with additional product recommendations. One of their latest innovations in mobile is a texting initiative where they text customers product recommendations and the customer can simply reply to purchase. Customers can also ask Nordstrom assistants for advice, such as "Recommend a pair of shoes for a party at the weekend". The texts are of course opt in - no overly pushy sales tactics here. In an increasingly mobile-first culture, these kind of services will be watched closely for their success.
54 of retailers that use automated product % recommendations increased their average order value year over year.
The real power
This is all pretty impressive in terms of foresight, bravery and being prepared to invest. The most impressive part of Nordstrom's overall experience though has been ingrained since the dawn of their company. It's one of the main reasons so many of these initiatives appear so early in comparison to other retailers, and is also why they succeed so often. Their purpose for their 100 year history has been "to provide a fabulous customer experience by empowering customers and the employees who serve them" and they really live this purpose. Much has been written about their famous employee handbook where the only rule is "Use good judgement in all situations". Compared to the codex-like policies of many organisations, this is barren and yet empowering to the extreme. This has gone on to create legendary stories of customer service (check out the diamond story or rainy boots story on InspiringGreatRetail.com). It also drives their technology innovation as well. In 2004 they put in a system that allowed sales assistants to keep their own personal book of customers and track their own personal sales. They can communicate directly with these customers to remind them of sales or personalised little reminders. How’s that for empowerment.
46% of shoppers said they will buy more from a retailer that personalises the shopping experience.
Source: Retail TouchPoints
Is it any wonder they have a million dollar club? A subset of employees that take over $1 million in sales for the company, on their own. They are taught to walk bags around the counter, not hand them over up high. They are taught not to point, but walk a customer to what they are looking for. And customers are not rushed out at closing time. These are all examples
It's a true joy that instead of a young upstart decimating old retailers, we have a long-standing retailer which has been purpose-driven and ahead of the technology curve on a consistent basis, as change has accelerated. Nordstrom is very much inspiring great retail.