The role of stores
Stores are seen as essential to drive business growth. The days of online and retail stores working almost in competition are gone. A successful brand ecosystem now sees each channel bolstering the success of the other. Brand perceptions and expectations are being re-set with every store visit and every online click / exploration. Ultimately, the success of brands relies on ensuring there is a cohesive and consistent relationship experience regardless of channel, whether online or instore, or a large ‘big box’ store or a smaller high street store format.
Operational excellence is a given – the wins are in the ability to ‘Surprise and Delight’ customers
Stores can only survive if they ensure operational excellence – range, availability, prices, check-out facilities etc. These hygiene factors are the bedrock of success, but the real wins lie in the brands’ ability to surprise, delight, inspire and offer a service which exceeds expectations. For example, tool hire, van rental, energy saving advice, online design tools, installation expertise and finance are just some of the services offered by B&Q to meet their customers’ needs. Communicating the scope of these services (instore and online) is a further challenge facing Home Improvement brands.
Stores are the primary relationship channel
Physical stores play a pivotal role as a relationship channel. It is very difficult to drive the same degree of emotional brand connection via a solely online offer. Stores are a key media channel; their very presence on the High Street or in retail parks is a constant reminder of a brand. It’s also important to remember the many other roles stores fulfil, they are a warehouse, a fulfilment centre and they embody brand experience in a tangible and social way.
Servicing customer needs
In terms of fulfilment, within the Home Improvement category, the promise of ‘Next Day’ delivery does not meet the needs of consumers or tradespeople intent on completing or continuing with a project. So, the stores providing online stock checks, Click and Collect, or delivery within an hour (e.g. Screwfix) are able to fulfil these needs.
Many shoppers simply ‘do not know what they don’t know’, and here store colleagues offer expertise, educating shoppers about all the elements required to complete a product successfully.
Even if stores are not the ultimate purchase channel, they are often the final frontier of choice. Shoppers may spend hours researching a project online, but in many cases, there is a real need to reassure themselves that they have made the right decision – be that paint colour, flooring design, kitchen cabinet finish or tool to purchase – by seeing the physical product within a retail environment.
The needs of the Trade sector cannot be overlooked
Tradespeople are a core market for Home Improvement brands. They have a regular, high frequency and high spend relationship with fewer retailers. For these independent tradespeople, their suppliers/stores fulfil a further role – a social function.
‘We are more than a supplier to these people’ – the ‘golden hour’ between 7am-8am when they call in to collect supplies is the one time of day when they can ‘shoot the breeze’, share problems, look for new solutions with fellow tradies and store colleagues. Building a successful relationship with tradespeople is again based on successfully delivering an offer targeted to their own unique needs. They want to feel their suppliers ‘have their back’ e.g. providing coffee/refreshments, friendly knowledgeable service, credit facilities to meet their cash flow needs and access to fair and frank ‘product reviews’ from fellow tradespeople.
Garden Centres – Getting it right
The final points were around the rise and rise of the Garden Centres in the UK and abroad. The panel was challenged about their success and what the in the home improvement category could learn from this.
A range of factors emerged – primarily garden centre sales are boosted by seasonal offerings and the consistent growth of the category as a whole over the past 8 years. More people than ever before are actively engaged in gardening. Horticulture UK figures show that the amount spent on gardening products by 2025 is estimated to be £6.5bn. Gardens as projects require constant updating and maintenance.
Their restaurants, broader category offerings/concessions (clothing, food, pets, gifts etc.) children’s play areas, the seasonality of the ranges and staff expertise all add to their overall appeal and regular repeat visits.
Simply put, for most shoppers, a visit to their local gardening centre in an enjoyable experience. Innovations in the home improvement category mean these retailers are seeking to deliver a similar sense of inspiration and innovation.