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Once upon a time not very long ago, my son who was working in the holidays, at a well-known grocery supermarket sent me an urgent text asking ’what is blini’? He had an agitated customer asking ‘where’s the blini?’ My son bless, did not know what it was or where it was. I told him and the blini was subsequently located in the bakery section. The total time taken to locate the blini was sub five minutes but the customer did not leave happy, the frustration he felt had left a bad taste. Let’s hope for the customer’s guests that evening that the blini did not.

There is a lot of talk in certain circles about the need for organisations to ‘become digital’ but what does that mean? The answer? It means different things to different people. However, in the example above if the grocery had been truly digital my son would have been able to click a device, a picture and description would have been shown along with the precise location of the blini. The result would have been a happy customer and a happy son/colleague.

Customer experience or more accurately a great customer experience is what all organisations need to deliver; this need is particularly acute in the retail sector. Not much research is required to get an understanding of the trouble the high street is in. Once eminent names have gone to the wall, others might be following. However, store closures and CVA’s (you can Google it and other brands are available) will not in my opinion be enough to save these organisations. Over and above what they are doing already retailers are going to have to grapple with a fundamental problem how do we deliver a great customer experience?

It is a problem with a capital P. Customer journeys are becoming increasingly complex and the experience has to be great across all stages including, on line, in the store, in the home waiting for something to be delivered, also known as “the last mile”. A great experience on line or in store will be undone if for example the customer does not know when or where the delivery to the home will be made. It doesn’t stop there as customer expectations will invariably increase over time. Already car parking is a key element of an overall retail experience. Who enjoys trying to find a space in a busy car park? In the not too distant future carrying bags around whilst shopping will be deemed a thing of the past, with goods delivered to car/home hotel. Retailers will have become ‘digital’ organisations.

So is the problem with a capital P that whilst trying to survive (closing stores, CVA’s…) retailers need to invest in delivering a great customer experience? I’m afraid so. For those that don’t the writing is on the wall.

The good news is that actually one of the biggest companies in the world is both digital and retail. Hello Amazon. Primark, BooHoo and TK Maxx are surviving and thriving along with many others. So are lots of small and local businesses. Additional good news is that actually people like to go out shopping, there is a social element to it. People can enjoy a day out more than they could say, sat looking at a computer screen ordering stuff on line.

Technology in itself is not going to be the cure all for the travails faced by retailers and should not be viewed as such. Focus as always should be on people first, then process, then technology. That said technology that enables organisations to serve their customers better – enabling for example omnichannel, a single view of the customer, next best action or intuitive solutions like digital shelf labelling, augmented reality, smart mirrors - can enhance the overall retail experience.

Prediction is known to be difficult, especially about the future (thank you Niels Bohr) but one thing is for sure. Customers will continue to demand more, either knowingly or unknowingly (see blini man above). Delivering a great customer experience is the battleground. The retailers that understand that and marshal their resources accordingly will be the ones that prosper.

I would be keen to know your thoughts, contact me or leave a comment.

About this author


Ray Ffrench

Director, Construction and Social Housing

In a career spanning over 30 years, Ray has endeavoured to deliver solutions to customers that are ‘original, stylish and add value’. He has worked across multiple sectors including automotive, transport & logistics, gaming, telco, retail and leisure. In his current role at CGI he ...