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Can the ultimate shopping experience become a reality?

Ahmed Galal Ismail Biography - CEO Majid Al Futtaim Ventures


Can the ultimate shopping experience become a reality?

Can the ultimate shopping experience become a reality?

By Ahmed Galal Ismail, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures

Have a think about the last time you made a purchase – maybe you ordered food for delivery online or picked up a new pair of shoes from the mall, or you may even have sourced a hand-made gift made by a local designer on Instagram. Was it a smooth and seamless experience? Maybe not. Could it have been better? Almost definitely. However you shop, it’s safe to say shopping consumes a large amount of our time, so surely it should be painless, rewarding and satisfying rather than a source of frustration?

The retail world has never had as many new ways to shop as it does currently, but the economic climate is tougher than ever – in the US, department stores’ market share continues to decline, some chains have disappeared altogether and the surviving few haven’t created any shareholder value. A similar story is unfolding in the UK, the second most advanced e-commerce market in the world after the US, where household retailers like M&S, Debenhams and BHS have all suffered of late.

The Middle East has a brighter outlook and is on the cusp of a ‘major e-commerce growth spurt’, according to a recent CBRE report. But regardless of the economics, what is unanimously keeping today’s brands, companies and retailers awake at night is one common challenge; how to master the omnichannel approach by creating the ultimate shopping experience that works seamlessly across multiple platforms.

Omni-channel has been a buzzword recently, but whilst there are examples of success, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the channel, losing sight of the core experience and ‘emotional value’ you’re delivering to customers. I believe that those who will succeed in an omnichannel world will be companies who have such a deep understanding of their customers that they are able to pinpoint their individual wants or needs at any particular moment on whichever channel they are using and tailor the core experience accordingly.

Armed with this ‘experience’ and ‘emotion’ mindset, you may decide expanding into new channels is not even necessary. Take Primark, for example. While other major high street retailers with significant omni-channel presences have been floundering, Primark has consistently posted strong revenue and profit growth, and it doesn’t sell a single product online. It remains, at the face of it, a classic brick and mortar retailer. It just delivers an extremely compelling experience, rooted in the principle that purchasing fashionable items at price points accessible to everyone creates guilt-free pleasure when going shopping.

If you look at how consumers shop, there are two distinct types of shopper mindsets – either ‘I want to shop’ or ‘I want to go shopping’. The first is a very functional and planned process. An extreme example would be the grocery shopping list where you have things that you need to tick off.

On the other end of the spectrum is more of an experiential journey where customers want to ‘go shopping’. They are looking for a more interactive, immersive experience that goes beyond simply purchasing a product. While some people always want ‘to shop’ and others are almost addicted to the thrill of ‘going shopping’, most alternate between the two mindsets.

The key here is for brands to understand which mindset customers are in at any given moment, and shape the core customer experience accordingly – if a customer is coming ‘to shop’, make that functional experience even quicker, more seamless and hassle-free. If your customers are in the frame of mind to ‘go shopping’, you know they are looking for an inherently entertaining and social experience, which offers a unique opportunity to build brand advocates in a way which a functional shopping experience never will.

Whilst it may not be possible to change a person’s mindset, I believe there are ways in which brands and companies can look to alter their behavior, depending on the product type, shopper ‘persona’, time and geography. By delivering a super-focused omni-experience, brands can even influence buying moods and density of purchase, which is hugely exciting for the retail industry.

It is tempting to simplify the situation by asserting that customers tend ‘to shop’ online, but ‘go shopping’ offline. However, there are pioneering examples of brands that deliver exceptionally experiential online shopping journeys. Take Amazon, for example. Amazon, who mastered convenience with one-click shopping online, only opened their physical grocery store Amazon Go once they could offer that convenience if not better with zero-click shopping; just pick up the groceries and walk out.

Similarly, we are also seeing brands such as British bookstore Waterstones investing back into enhancing their core bricks and mortar experience, after failed attempts to embrace e-commerce. Under the vision of helping people fall back in love with books, the company reshaped its stores to make them more welcoming, tranquil and immersive, training staff on great books so they could more passionately provide both compelling and accurate product recommendations. The company then went one step further by creating a loyalty mobile app to build retention and drive return footfall through features including a personalized ‘click and collect’ concept that told book lovers when a book from their wish list was ready for collection at their local store.

So, if we know that people display different mindsets when it comes to shopping, how do brands go about identifying these, in order to shape the core customer experience accordingly?

It all comes down to the smart use of relevant data. At Majid Al Futtaim, we are in the unique position of being able to collect customer data at multiple touchpoints, whether someone is grabbing a coffee, purchasing new jeans, catching the latest film or just window shopping. We do this by combining data from a range of sources including Wi-Fi connectivity, point of sale, credit card data and mobile payment apps. However, we recognize that data by itself doesn’t automatically lead to delivering a successful omni-experience – to truly understand our customers’ mindsets, we need to look at the journeys they take and use this data to target them with a hyper-personalised and memorable experience that keeps them coming back.

Understanding customers’ needs and responding to them has set companies apart from the competition since the dawn of time. In our fast-moving, multi-channel world, it is easy to get distracted and stray from this proven path. The secret is to truly understand what your customers want, constantly seek new ways to enhance your experience and deliver more value for your company by delivering more emotional value to your customers.

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