How often do we walk into a retail space and find the joy and giddy expectation we usually associate with dining out in a restaurant? Not often enough, is probably the answer.
There are of course exceptions in the retail sector, but compare flagship stores, with their beautifully curated design-led boutiques, to a glance around the average high street and chances are you’ll witness a fairly lacklustre affair.
Competition from digital platforms and D2C brands is higher than ever, and bricks and mortar stores are under increasing pressure to adapt to this new environment. To strengthen their chances of survival they need to deliver retail experiences that are on a par with what we have come to expect from dining out.
So, what can retailers learn from restaurants?
Restaurants depend on creating a great atmosphere through every touchpoint: from a welcoming, desirable frontage on the street, to the door you open, to the space to wait before taking your seat, every element is meticulously detailed.
Many retailers fail to consider ambience at all. Customers are faced with lights that leave them blinking, frustrated by ill-placed changing rooms in overheated stores. The design and feel of the physical space is so important. Shoppers should enjoy being in the store beyond just the products on offer.
A good dining experience is always enhanced by the staff who serve, entertain and inform their customers. It’s the staff who can turn a mediocre restaurant experience into a memorable one.
The same is true in retail. The benefit of shopping in-store rather than online is the customer service, assistance and advice on offer from staff. If this experience isn’t perfect, this offers shoppers little incentive to return.
Restaurants get one chance to get their service and their product right for their diners. One unsatisfactory meal or service hiccup in a restaurant usually means no second date. Sometimes a negative online review can be devastating.
Restaurants are in a far more precarious position than retailers if the quality of their offer is not 100%. As a result, they are laser-focused on getting it right. If the overall experience hasn’t hit the right spot, restaurants will often compliment a course or even the whole meal. But how does a retailer match this type of gesture?
Retailers need to sell quality products to keep customers coming back, but careful thought must be given to addressing customer concerns if a product doesn’t meet with their expectation. Retailers need to be prepared for this situation and it goes deeper than honouring the quality of a product. Being prepared to offer a courtesy gesture can play a major role in rebuilding a positive customer relationship.
Making customers feel welcome and relaxed through great design is always at the forefront of making a restaurant successful. It’s evident in every touchpoint. Selecting comfortable seating that invites you to languish at the table and the optimal distance between settings, just close enough to create a buzz but far enough apart provide privacy and calm. Striking the right balance is an art.
Creating this similar atmosphere in retail spaces, however, can be just as tricky. Customers need to feel comfortable and relaxed in the space, whether that’s having enough room to move and browse freely or having somewhere calm to sit while waiting for a friend to try on an item or consider options
Getting the ambience, service and quality right is essential, but what’s a restaurant without a great menu or a great story? Any restaurateur will understand that no matter how on-trend the lighting and seating are, without a menu that reels in the customer, they are doomed to fail. It’s not just about getting the style of cuisine right either, it’s actually about successfully communicating the story behind it.
Great restaurants ensure that their waiting team is prepped to tell the stories behind the menu to any customer. They can recount tales of the food’s origin, sourcing and cooking methods which all adds to crucial encouragement for a return visit. This kind of engagement could work wonders in the retail environment.
Retailers of course cannot present their products as easily and simply as a menu can, so they’re at a disadvantage from the off here too. They have to create a physical space that leads the customer on a carefully curated journey, allowing the products and the way they are displayed to tell the brand story.
Quite simply, every retailer should aim to inspire passion for their products and the experience they offer; essentially helping customers fall in love with them. And like any great relationship, it’s about respect. The best restaurants respect and value their consumer and consider their feedback invaluable. They want them to come back time and time again to relive an experience they loved.
The key here lies in bringing the customer an experience they’ll remember, a surprise they’ll enjoy and a product they’ll take home with them that ties it all together.