When faced with overwhelming choice – brand means more than ever

As the ease and efficiency of ecommerce continues to put the pinch on traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, Carolyn Pitt writes that now is the time to double down on brand-motivated customer service.

We know the story all too well; companies everywhere are facing an increasingly competitive global marketplace where channels to consumers are opening up for large and small brands equally.

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers once had a near stranglehold on placing a brand – whether that is their owned brand products or other stocked brands – in customers’ hands.

More recently, the explosion of online channels and app platforms has led to a surge in the number of direct-to-consumer brands in the retail sector. For consumers this can be both wonderful and overwhelming.

So what does this mean for traditional retailers, which play the ‘shop front’ role in the value chain? Are consumers now going straight to the source and essentially cutting them out? Well, in some cases, yes. But not when retailers can prove their value to consumers. How is this achieved? With trust.

While seductive images of new products served up in social media feeds are appealing, the anxiety of choosing always lurks. Will it live up to the expectation? Consumers often search for validation of their purchase in the form of online reviews or commentary in lieu of an existing rapport with a brand.

And then, if they do proceed with the purchase and expectations aren’t met, the fast-paced digital tide sweeps away their stories of dissatisfaction. This is where trusted retail brands come to the fore. There are two key attributes a strong retail brand can use to appeal to consumers: simplification and certainty.

Often, purchasing consumers want simplicity, ease and convenience. They want pleasure and pleasant surprises, not pain. They want to be attended to; not ignored, and they want to feel they matter. In these times of seemingly infinite choice, retailers can play a clear curation role and cut away the noise to help make the purchasing process simple for customers.

Take PETstock for example, which took out the National Retailer of the Year award at the 2018 eftpos ARA (Australian Retail Awards). Within an increasingly competitive environment, PETstock is bucking current trends and increasing its network of physical stores. Using its expertise to source brands consumers can trust, PETstock has become a retailer consumers can trust.

As for customer service, which should embody the brand’s values, well, that’s a regular number one complaint. There’s been no shortage of negative press about Australian retail, and customer service in particular that taken a lot of the heat.

For new D2C brands, when things go wrong – delayed delivery and faulty products – it’s the customer service that makes the most lasting impression on customers. And while some do get this right, do customers really want to risk it?

Against this backdrop, retailers are seeing customer service as a key way to differentiate them and win over customers. When you look at a consumer favourite like Bunnings, it’s this customer-service-focused persona that emotionally connects consumers to the brand more so than its delivery on key retail pillars of range and price. Bunnings succeeds because customer service is at the centre of its business.

It’s not just about a retailer providing a good customer experience, like employing front line staff trained in surface level behaviours and creating store environments that provide a pleasurable journey for shopping – it’s about a pervading culture of customer service throughout the organisation.

An effective culture should come from within a business. It should start at the top with the brand vision and work its way out to the customers — in both on- and offline environments.

Good culture exists when a businesses’ employees – whether customer facing or in more internal operating roles – are engaged in customer service behaviour that showcases brand values because they are committed emotionally and intellectually to the businesses’ brand.

In these instances, what results is true customer service instead of the forced and reluctant approach we see daily in department stores or that we receive from call centres.

In delivering on both curation and customer service, retail brands earn trust and an enduring place in consumers’ lives.

Carolyn Pitt is head of account management at Hulsbosch.

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Image credit: Alexandre Godreau