Who owns the in-store experience?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jun 14, 2017
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

Who owns the customer experience? The discussion usually focuses on the conflict between merchandising, which “knows” the customer best through product and merchandising, and marketing, which owns customer data and communicates with the customer.

But who owns the in-store experience? The most natural answer would be “store operations,” but there are few companies where the store operations team is actually responsible for “a customer experience.” The conflict is right there in the name — they’re there to keep stores operational, not to deliver fantastic customer service.

Some people will immediately take issue with that, but you just have to look at the workload of store associates to understand. Selling may be one of their jobs, but they have many, many jobs — from stocking shelves to, yes, cleaning bathrooms, to receiving shipments, to now also picking orders for store ship or in-store pickup, to customer service functions like returns and exchanges or taking payments for store credit cards… All of these things are important, but they’re not focused on engaging customers early in their shopping journeys.

Part of the reason very little training of store associates is focused on how to help customers is because there is no one at the executive level who is focused on building those engaging customer experiences in the store.

And if overburdened “store operations” can’t be responsive to in-store shopper needs, what should we do about it?

One immediate answer is to take another look at the role that stores play overall in the customer experience — from a strategy perspective. What is the brand strategy? How do stores support that strategy? How is that strategy expressed as part of the customer experience?

In the past few months benchmarking retailers’ strategic approach to stores, RSR has learned that many retailers do not have a good answer to any of these questions. Part of the reason —because there is no one driving that discussion internally. Unless the corporation is already so aligned that everyone is focused on the customer, that gap must be addressed for stores to be successful in the future.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Who owns the in-store customer experience? Do you see conflicts or challenges in store operations driving in-store engagement versus other teams?

Braintrust
"All should sync their efforts in order to create a consistent brand and shopper experience regardless of the portal."
"The in-store experience is in the hands of store operations, whether they own it or not."
"In my view, everyone owns it. I realize retailers want “one throat to choke” for performance measurement, however..."

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21 Comments on "Who owns the in-store experience?"

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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Agreed wholeheartedly! Unless the money and initiative start at the top, there is no room for capital expenses. Operations should be leading the charge — they see everything day-in and day-out.

After visiting various Nordstrom stores that demonstrate the opposite of the Nordstrom Way I ask myself, if I can see it why doesn’t anyone else? My guess is that they do but feel disempowered to do much about it. The easy route is to simply let managers manage tasks which can easily be seen. That’s why we have so many pretty stores out there and low conversion. I actually had a woman with a clipboard at Restoration Hardware ask me to move so she could inventory some pillows. That was our entire interaction in the store.

If Bezos can obsess on the customer experience, why can’t the brick-and-mortar retailers? Look to the CEO, it just isn’t that important … obviously.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Bob, I’m focusing on your comment about why no one can see it if you can as a customer. I’m always amazed at the answer when I can ask a room full of people at a retailer’s headquarters how many times they have visited one of their stores in the last few months. So often the answer is only a handful of people out of ten have even visited once! This is a culture issue and has to start at the top of the management chain for anything to change.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I see many reasons why most stores do not provide an excellent customer experience. First, where it is true that store operations are the driving force for the stores, most retailers have training reporting to HR. Training needs to report to operations. The store ops folks are more in touch with the day-to-day needs at the store level and having training report directly to them keeps both training and the operations team better aligned. The second issue is that most retailers do not fully understand what an excellent customer experience is. I know that may sound silly, but it’s a lot more than just greeting customers. Store associates have become inundated with store tasks along with pressure from management to get them done. In most stores today, store associates barely have time for customers. So my recommendation is always to assign at least one or two store associates to walk the floor making themselves available for customers and their needs while the other associates focus on the task. Train ALL associates not just to greet but how to engage, ask the right questions, listen to customers needs, make good recommendations, thank them for their business and invite them back. It’s… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The store has historically been the place where you get “stuff” which is why the experience became the responsibility of operations. Today’s store is defined by the shopper and has several portals that they choose on a case by case basis. The physical store has become one option. The responsibility of the store experience should be the store team — not unlike the interactive team, e-commerce and broadcast media. All should sync their efforts in order to create a consistent brand and shopper experience regardless of the portal.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

This might be almost too obvious to even mention: The customer has always and will always “own” what they experience.

The very notion that marketing or store operations own or can dictate what customers experience is the height of egotistical thinking. They are responsible only for the decisions and actions they take. The customer decides what works and what doesn’t. End of story.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

In-store experience is the physical manifestation of the brand and therefore should be defined by the marketing and merchandising teams. However, store operations is responsible for delivering the in-store experience so they need to be fully engaged as part of the process. As Nikki rightly points out, there are lots of opinions about what the in-store experience should be and who owns it or should own it, but there’s often a disconnect with the people who are closest to the customer — store operations. Ultimately, it needs to be a collaboration among the internal groups, but I believe that store operations needs to play a larger role.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

The conflict is the reality of retail. Store operations needs to drive the in-store experience with the help of “store support” which is what IT, marketing and merchandising have always been. We have gotten away from that model by creating silos of technology, process and people all vying to own the customer. The reality is that more than 85 percent of sales are at store level and more than 85 percent of the people shopping at a retailer are at the store. We need to create a seamless real-time unified approach where these store associates have the tools, the technology, the process and the organization to support the customer. Guided selling, the future of in-store experience and Distributed Order Management (treating the stores as mini-warehouses for pick, pack and ship or BOPIS) require a support structure and curated assortment that will force these conflicts to be resolved and crown store operations the owner of the in-store customer experience.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Great discussion point. This is the fundamental issue with many of the struggling brick-and-mortar retailers today. The hierarchy of many of these companies is disjointed and not at all focused on the customer. In reality, no one owns the customer experience. Retail is retailer-centric. The focus is on what is best for the retailer.

Operations is centered around expense control; labor, inventory, in-stock positions, etc. All important components but a balance is needed if the customer experience is paramount. Very few operators see labor as an investment in the customer. Many times the customers get in the way of operations’ efficiency goals. Merchandising is directed at increasing rebates, discounts and accruals. So the product assortment decisions are made, in many cases, on pure financial goals not on consumer targeting. In many retailers, marketing is treated as nothing more than advertising.

If a company were truly consumer-focused, then marketing would be the driver of the business. No other group within the organization is directly responsible for developing customers and revenue channels.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The legacy mindset was to keep the store operations team siloed from the merchandising, e-commerce, strategy and customer experience groups. Yet as we all know and embrace, the customer is engaging with a singular retail brand and not a singular store operations entity. It is absolutely critical for the entire retail organization to own the customer experience and get it right across every single shopping channel. This is only achievable by connecting and embedding the store operations team into all of the key strategic merchandising and operational decisions, and providing the necessary training and incentivization so they are empowered to provide a superior customer experience.

In the age of the digitally- and socially-empowered customer, the obsession organization-wide has to be around providing a seamless, transporting and elevating multi-sensory experience that is not easily replicated via e-commerce and mobile commerce channels.

There is not room for conflicts in today’s retail world. The customer obsession has to be an integral part of the retail organization’s DNA and it starts with the C-suite on downwards.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Who owns the in-store customer experience? I agree with Bob on the crucial role of store operations given their close contact with customers and being the face of the brand. The store associates can validate and supplement the insight gained from data and, with some help from technology, are able to influence the customer in the retail moment. If we step back a bit, the problem gets even more dicey. The crux of the matter is, who is responsible and can execute consistently against the overall customer experience — irrespective of where it takes place? Technology can enable, merchants can select the products and assortments, marketing creates the communications and can identify the messages and set the tone across all points of interaction. It’s a widely distributed, multi-faceted problem, so maybe part of the answer is having a strong CEO focus on the primacy of the customer experience and making it explicit and infused throughout all organizational teams. Creating empathy for the customer by thoroughly investigating and investing in the customer journey can raise sensitivity and awareness of the impact each team has on the customer (and others in the organization) and eventually show up in store performance such as… Read more »
Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The biggest strategic failure of CX is the lack of acknowledgment that EVERYONE has ownership of the customer experience.

The customer journey starts with a thought about a want or need and continues through every step until it is fulfilled and then how it’s supported after. Every touchpoint in that journey contributes to the overall experience and every interaction can make or break it. Even third parties are contributors (for example delivery or warranty repair).

Starting in the C-suite, all brands engaged in commerce need to recognize this (bricks and mortar and m/e-commerce) and take actions to create a culture to manifest it. It is exactly why every business – not just retail, must have a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) with sufficient clout to drive the focus on experience throughout the organization.

Ironically, superb CX is not necessarily costly. It is more about focus, commitment, detail, consistent execution, and a touch of pride than money.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

There is a disconnect that has me more worried than any issue with in-store staff not engaging the customers. Merchandisers and marketers often seem to live in their own little world, interacting only with suppliers and other merchandisers and marketers. They’ve lost, or maybe never had, a feel for what the customer really wants. If you’re selling the wrong products and promoting them with the wrong message, you’re bound to fail regardless of the in-store engagement.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

This is the reason that a Chief Customer Officer should be considered. Just as each customer is different, so is each store. Merchandising and marketing must work in concert to deliver the right experience for the customer. When there are multiple store locations serving different demographics someone has to be the conductor, and that person is the Chief Customer Officer.

Tom Erskine
BrainTrust
1 month 7 days ago

Shep – Good observation and suggestion. I’ve seen the CXO or CCO role tried in organizations as the omnichannel experience becomes a reality and usually the role has limited authority, limited budget and limited credibility within the teams that actually engage with the customer like customer service, store ops, sales and marketing. They give good keynotes, but they don’t drive change. Have you seen otherwise?

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Our resident genius, Nikki, has hit the nail on the head yet again. Ever since I was a supermarket store manager in the ’80s, we knew that customer service labor expense was the first thing to cut when payroll budgets got too tight to handle. I’m certain that’s still the case today. Who owns the in-store experience? Well, let me make perfectly clear what we used to say in that same company. “If you’re not helping the customer yourself, you better be helping someone who is.”

In my view, everyone owns it. I realize retailers want “one throat to choke” for performance measurement, however the minute a retailer puts THE most critical KPI on the shoulders of one person or department, everyone else will point their fingers at them when something goes wrong. Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but it worked well for one of the top 10 best grocers in the country.

Sky Rota
Guest
1 month 7 days ago

I’m with you Mr. Lonyai. Everyone is part of the in-store experience. And why are sales people cleaning bathrooms? You get cleaning people to clean and sales people to sell.

If retailers want to keep their stores open, they have to pay attention to us! I personally won’t go to certain stores ever again because I can’t find help. Why is this so hard? Why has shopping changed so drastically? internet shopping didn’t ruin in-store experiences. They ruined the shopping experience all by themselves. No one wants to wait on anyone in those stores, then why are they hiring people like them? You can find the right people that love to help others and are nice and kind and patient. Who is in charge of hiring sales people that clearly do not want to be selling or helping people? Why are they even considered for those jobs? Sales people should be the nicest most informed accommodating people on your floor. They should never leave the floor, they should never disappear to get stock.

Retailers need to get it together fast because I am down to like one store I am pleased with going to.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

To me, there’s got to be a CXO position within retailers today. And they must be empowered. CX is so broad now, so all-encompassing, from media to social to delivery to online to HR to packaging and oh yeah, store, that it cannot possibly be effective under traditional leadership strata. I’d also make the new CXO a digital native, there is no room for us digital immigrants in this new land.

Even though it’s my background, the LAST group I’d want controlling CX would be merchants. Too focused on the trees to see the forest.

Tom Erskine
BrainTrust
1 month 7 days ago

Retailers need to think differently about who owns CX when the customer journey crosses many channels. But specific to in-store, the simplest answer is that store operations needs to be elevated, staffed, and KPI’d to take responsibility for delivering a superior customer experience. Perhaps it needs to be renamed “Store Experience and Operations” (although SEO is already taken!).

Marge Laney
BrainTrust
1 month 6 days ago

Is it 1997 or 2017? We have literally been talking about this problem for 20 years! Bob is 100 percent correct, how can we see the problem but leadership cannot?

The in-store experience is in the hands of store operations, whether they own it or not. The problem with providing customer service as opposed to accomplishing tasks is that tasks are measurable, but customer service is not. As an associate, if I spend my time providing great customer service at the expense of my task list, I will be reprimanded for not accomplishing my tasks and given no credit for the service I’ve provided.

There are many ways to empower store personnel to provide excellent service and measure their performance, but it takes leadership and the intestinal fortitude of the CEO to spend the time and money to make it happen.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

As the survey results here suggest, store operations is expected to own the in-store experience. The issue is — do they know that? It really is a corporate culture issue and has to be owned at the top. Just as many of us have said that for a retailer to truly become omnichannel, or to transform into a unified commerce approach, it all starts with executive leadership. There has to be someone in a CXO or CCO position to lead the charge on in-store experience. The organization will follow from there.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

All parts of a retail business should be pulling together to deliver the in-store experience. It shouldn’t be down to one part to own it. Store operations should be executing the marketing and merchandising plans. Staff should be feeding back to head office to make sure that those plans are developed in the right way. Staff should be empowered to provide experience to customers. Often for in-store staff, the challenge comes from not being properly trained in customer services or being given the opportunity to make decisions.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"All should sync their efforts in order to create a consistent brand and shopper experience regardless of the portal."
"The in-store experience is in the hands of store operations, whether they own it or not."
"In my view, everyone owns it. I realize retailers want “one throat to choke” for performance measurement, however..."

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