Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

eCommerce Tricks for Offline Retailers

For quite some time there has been tantalising posters in the window of a vacant shop in the village where I live. After my trip to New York in December the prospect of a Magnolia Bakery style cupcake shop within a one mile radius of my house was something I could definitely get behind.

The aforementioned shop opened last Sunday and over a week later I still hadn't been in. Considering not only had I been hotly anticipating my local cupcake moment for ooh at least 3 weeks but surely to goodness I was sitting slap-bang in their target market (also I pass the shop every day on the walk from the station). WHAT on god's earth was WRONG with me? Was I ill? I mean the day the new Zara site launched I had a calendar invite in my Outlook...I was directly onto the new ASOS facebook app as soon as it went live...the Outnet design refresh made my year...and then....the penny dropped.

It occurred to me that the shop - I'll call it 'Hotly Anticipated Cupcake Shop' (hacs to save my typing finger) must be doing something wrong to have so disappointed me,  It just wasn't grabbing me in the way my favourite websites do - despite the convenient location. And given that Hummingbird Bakery deliver..well it could be all over for me and hacs.

Here's a few lessons I think hacs could have learned from the world of online retail:

Engage me with the Homepage
To me a cupcake is the summer fashion of the baked goods world. It's beautiful, it's colourful, it's sweet, it's probably got some cute little mini butterflies stuck to it, it doesn't last very long..and I need to SEE it to want to buy it.

Fashion websites show you lovely shots of models wearing their product on their Homepage because they want you to buy into looking like that, they want you to delve into the rest of the site. Having a display case which is three feet into the shop so that I have to squint and push my nose against the glass to even view what's on offer is a massive barrier for me. The Hummingbird has those cool glass shelves for a reason, Cox Cookies & Cake has the cake stands in the window for a reason, crikey even Greggs shows it's 49p iced buns in the window. SHOW ME THE CAKE. That's all.

Call to Action
Clear calls to action on a website tell the visitor what to do next. Whether that's clicking on a link to some information, signing up, tracking their order. hacs could do with some clear CTA's. It's 7pm, you're standing behind the counter with all the lights on staring at me, I am so not going to try the door to see if you're open. Nor do I really want to ask what the price of everything is. Put a sign on it.

Targeted Promotional Activity
Apparently there was an offer from hacs to people leaving the train station on the Sunday. Sunday. You see my point.

Customer Experience
When designing an online retail site the customer journey is constantly referred to, again and again. We A/B test, we user test, we do it again. The focus is always (or should be!) 'What does my customer need?'. What my village needs is a cafe with more than 2 seats in it (real estate is expensive in London) and not yet another shop with ooh 2 seats in it. Not only is this faintly bizarre (it's a residential area not a workers lunchtime spot) but it's also just not a pleasant experience for anyone. Walk into the shop and you're basically struggling to navigate the two tables to get to the counter. Sit in the two tables and you're pretty much going to get someone standing over you to look at the fareaway vision of cake...the cream leather seats look nice though.

Not strictly something online which you can apply to offline but no less irratating. If you're going to have a website to promote your offline shop and/or brand then for goodness sake make sure people can find it. Furiously Googling for opening hours on my way home on the train was an epic fail after even the exact name of the brand and it's location didn't show up on Google. I had to go via a local blog it had been mentioned on.

Clearly this is a bit of a labour of love for the owners, and in some ways they seriously know their stuff - the brand and logo for the shop are excellent, as is their social media presence - they're definitely investing the time on Twitter and engaging directly with customers (or friends - I can't work out which) on ideas and feedback. Customer service was a tad scary and Rowan-Atkinson-in-Love-Actually-esque ('Which would you like madam? The vanilla? Very good madam. Would you like a bag or a box madam?) but the sentiment was there.

Given all this they'll probably do incredibly well (and it's cake to be fair - everyone loves cake) but really this post isn't about hacs. There are so many businesses making precisely the same mistakes (not strictly a shop but Balls Brothers - have you heard of menu burn??). It's about all those 'real' stores  - the traditional, well worn, regular bricks and mortar stores that could just learn a teensy bit from the tricks of the mouthy teenager upstart of online retail. After all that's where ecommerce came from to begin with...that's why it's not just called 'e'....

H x

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