How do traditional retail stores adapt to remain relevant in the e-commerce age? The past few years have seen plenty of challenges, with stores forced to close during the peak of the pandemic as online buying surged, accelerating changes in shopper behavior. It's been obvious as stores reopened that retail success now depends on merging online and in-person experiences to combine the best of both. At last week's Salesforce World Tour in London, leading UK home technology retailer Currys talked about its digital journey to create a better all-round experience for its customers.
More than eight million shoppers a week visit Currys, either online or at one of 300 store locations across the country. In the past, there has been no way to connect those online and in-store experiences. Yet Currys knows that 40-50% of its customers shop on both channels. Four in every five in-store shoppers have researched their purchase online, while others visit the store to see the product before going on to buy it online. Currys has therefore rolled out an app that allows colleagues in the store to see a customer's online profile and activity as they help them with their purchase. The goal is to have a single view of the customer that Currys can use to guide them throughout the customer lifecyce. Gillian Geraghty, Omnichannel and eCommerce Director at Currys, explains:
Everybody talks about omni-channel at stores and online, but actually it's end-to-end — from a customer browsing right through to the after-sales piece. And then our customers do shop with us for warranty service, their care plans, their credit. So it's much broader than just the product they buy. We might have relationships with customers for years, just on the product they've bought ...
It's not just a one-off purchase, it's hopefully a lifetime relationship that you're trying to build.
Using the colleague hub, once the customer has confirmed their email address or phone number, the colleague can look up details such as whether they've signed up for the Currys Perks member scheme, their purchase history and recent web activity such as an abandoned basket or products they've viewed. Directly from the app, the colleague can take an order, add warranty protection, set up a payment plan, and arrange delivery.
The human element
The technology is an important part of making this work — including Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud, plus integration to other systems using MuleSoft — but the human element is just as important. Currys has invested over £25 million ($31m) in staff development and sees expert advice and guidance as an essential part of its proposition. That advice is also delivered online.
An app that proved invaluable during the pandemic lockdown is ShopLive, which lets store colleagues give advice to online customers via a one-way video call where they can show products, answer questions and even complete a purchase using the colleague hub app. Now used by 35,000 shoppers a week, it's the UK retail industry's largest video commerce channel. The service is available 24/7 and colleagues either answer the call in-store or from home if it's out-of-hours. Geraghty says:
From the website, if you want to speak to one of our colleagues to help you with expert advice, we put you through to the right person in store ...
If they're not in store, then they'll have the hub at home that they can do that. We have it 24/7. And it was great, because that was the whole point during the pandemic. We could still continue to have all these colleagues, that would have been in store, working and still serving customers from their homes.
Currys also uses the online channel to follow up purchases with relevant offers, such as online subscriptions. Again, if the customer has any questions, they can open up the LiveShop video call or chat over a message channel. There's also an augmented reality app that colleagues can launch to show how an appliance will look in the customer's space. What's important is making sure that offers are relevant to the customer and not too intrusive. Geraghty says:
It's making sure that we're talking about the right deals for you — whether we're doing clearance or whether it's technology you want, or if you're more into the larger appliances, fridges, washing machines — what we're serving up to you is relevant to you in that space, rather than talking to you about laptops that may not be ...
I think you have to be careful when you're starting to get into personalization, because you don't want to be intrusive. There's this fine balance of being not creepy. We want to know you, we want to understand you and we want to support you, without, 'Actually I feel uncomfortable because you know me too well.'
Building a long-term relationship
Building the relationship in the right way is important because Currys wants to establish a long-term relationship with customers. As well as selling new product, the business has a huge repairs operation that completes more than 1.9 million repairs over a year. It also offers trade-in and recycling of redundant equipment. Geraghty comments:
That's part of the huge part of the Curry's proposition around services as well ... the service element, whether that's the trade-in, so you can do that as helping customers, and everything around sustainability, whether recycle, repair. All of those things that we do, which makes more than just selling the technology.
A joined-up digital infrastructure is key to making this ongoing relationship work. She adds:
What's important with the journey that we're on, the transformation, is that it's that one ecosystem. That's what then helps us to run the business, makes life a lot easier and more seamless. But that helps with all that personalization piece, understanding and pulling it all together. Whether you're in store, you're online, or it's the after-sales, it's all one platform that we're now working across.
Making sure that the customer experience lives up to expectations is also important. Again, this often means joined-up processes that run across both online and in-store. Currys offers a same-day buy online, pick up in store service, with pickup within 30 minutes if the store has the item in stock, or within 24 hours if it needs to come to the store from a distribution center. Many purchases are emergencies, because the customer needs to replace an item that's broken down, so the ambition is to reduce that turnaround time from 30 to 15 minutes, and perhaps add home delivery. Geraghty says:
The next one is, how can you do same day within 15 minutes? Customers want it quite quickly — 30% of our orders are distress purchases. So how can we do same day to your home if you require it?
The company also tracks performance across each element of the process, such as the delivery interval from the distribution center to the store, or how long it takes to get the item from the truck to the shelf. Other elements ensure that the in-store experience is in tune with the promise. She continues:
We track wait time from when a customer comes in store to they pick it up. And then the other element that we want to get to as part of our omni is. how do you then ensure that if the customer wants to be served as well — if they want to collect, they've got a new laptop, and say actually I want Microsoft or I need some new cables or anything with it — how can you serve them as well as do the collection? ...
But I think wait time is very important. Because if you're going to offer it in 30 minutes, you don't want to then wait 15 minutes once you get into store. We want to be serving them within two minutes of arriving within the shop floor.
Plenty of ambition there from Currys to keep on improving the customer experience. My memories of shopping at electronics retailers have not always been happy. But what Currys is now attempting shows how much of a difference it can make through thoughtful adoption of modern connected digital technologies. It's intriguing to see how much it is already blending online and in-person experiences, for example using the ShopLive app to bring colleagues into digital realm, while the colleague hub brings all of the convenience of digital into the store experience.
After previous mergers with Dixons, PC World and Carphone Warehouse, last year the company standardized on the Currys brand to carry forward its 140-year history on the high street, plus a quarter-century online. The biggest transformation for traditional retailers is from one-off purchases to ongoing customer engagement, although in a sense that's a return to the kind of relationship that local specialist stores used to have with their local community of regular shoppers, now executed at digital scale across a nationwide shopping population. Currys is still only part way along this journey, but it's showing what can be achieved with the right investment in both technology and people.