Why an in-store office might bring retail closer to customers
Have you been thinking about shop space all wrong? You use it to showcase products and sell to customers. You understand that it’s a great way of marketing to the customer. You see how experience is important. And while all of these important things are happening in your stores, you’re in an office somewhere else. Possibly miles away.
In a retail world where we talk about the importance of connected experiences, does it still make sense for you to be disconnected from your stores? Some retailers think not. They’re using in-store office space to get closer to their customers and better understand their businesses.
Having your office in-store means that high-level staff are able to actually see what you’re selling. That’s hugely valuable because having your head office elsewhere means decision-making staff are disconnected from the products on sale. And once you’re removed from what you sell and who you’re selling to it’s hard to make the best decisions.
When looking out of your office means looking into your store it’s hard to be distracted from the end goal. And it’s harder to ignore problems and pain points. It’s easier to see what needs improving and how well it’s working. You can take a walk around the space at any moment and speak to customers.
Having key staff based in-store can also make your store more agile. Want to test a new product range? Or visual merchandising set-up? Or even a digital tool before a wider launch? Your team is able to take that out on the shop floor, with customers, as easily as walking into the next office.
Suddenly innovation seems like something more manageable. You can create a solution in the same space as it will be used. You can see it in action. You can take feedback immediately. You can see it for yourself. And what’s more powerful than personal proof of concept?
A face for the company
Online furniture retailer Made.com operates a chain of successful physical stores. For its London and Berlin spaces the company opted to bring its offices inside the store. In London the shop floor and offices are separated by ‘fish bowl’ meeting rooms. It means that customer can walk past management having meetings and see through to the staff working in the office behind.
For Made.com this visibility plays an importance role in its move from online only to omnichannel retailer. Being able to see top-level staff at work gives customers confidence that the company is real. It gives a real-life face to the online brand. While anyone can set-up a shop online, it’s more difficult to do the same thing in a physical space.
Having a working office inside the store is not an easy option though. Those short lines of communication between you and the customer means there’s nowhere to hide. If something is wrong then it’s not too difficult for them to tell you.
On the flipside it can help you resolve customer issues more easily. If there’s a major problem customer services or management can deal with it face-to-face. Apart from being a better customer experience, it can also reflect better on you as a company. It means you don’t have the customer publicly complaining through social media. And if you find there is a regularly occurring problem in the store you can eliminate it quickly.
Keeping a company overview
It works for independent businesses as well. Our/Vodka is a global drinks brand with a difference. It operates a network of micro-distilleries in major cities, but each location is independently run. It means that the end product, as well as the operation, is slightly different in each case.
What the spaces do have in common is their multi-purpose nature. As independent micro businesses, the sites are shop, production and office space in one. With each micro-distillery operating with a small team it makes sense for the office to sit alongside production.
A small team usually means each member wears many different hats, so it is easier to move between parts of the business if they are in the same place. You can also keep a better overview of what is happening across the whole company if you are connected to it.
It also means that anyone who wants to meet with Our/Vodka’s distilleries has to come into the space where the product is made. For niche, speciality products, it’s the product itself that is usually the best sales tool. Having an on-site office encourages potential partners to try the product, engage with the brand and understand the story. They can see for themselves how it is made and that it suits their needs.
Making a statement
Aside from potential cost savings, there are a number of benefits to having your office in the same space as your store. As experience becomes more of a competitive point for physical retailers, being close to your customers can help you react better.
Physically reducing the distance between store and office can help to shorten the lines of communication between the different parts of the business. It gives you the opportunity to see the exact same information that your store does. If you’re all working from the same sheet then it’s easier to pull together towards a common goal – serving customers better.
Having your office located somewhere that is visible to customers is a strong statement. It tells them that you care, that you’re engaged with the business. Suddenly you’re not some big brand name that’s in some ivory tower somewhere. You have a face that customers can see every day. There’s the perception that you’re plugged into the business and what’s going on.
Your customer probably spends a lot more time in your store than you do. Perhaps it’s time to change that.
Have you tried these four ways to improve the competitiveness of your retail business? Watch this space for more interviews, retail openings and retail innovations. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook or check out our LinkedIn page. See you soon!