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What can retail learn from banking?

For the last decade, the slow demise of the high-street has been well documented, with a record 14 shops closing daily in the UK in 2018. With more retailers plugging investment into digital infrastructure to keep up with the likes of Amazon, we’re often seeing the physical store being left behind.

Against this backdrop, customer experience (CX) experts shouldn’t ignore their brand’s physical presence. In fact, they should be asking themselves some key questions; is there more to be done on the ground? And does the increase in digital consumerism have to correlate with the decrease in physical branches?

These concerns have long been undertaken in the banking world, which has dealt with crisis after crisis; most recently turning their focus to in-store CX, as digital disruptors put their physical divisions in jeopardy. In this free-for-all, certain initiatives have taken centre stage through innovations seeking to provide something their fully digital competitors can’t: an immersive and memorable experience. Clearly, there are lessons we can learn from how these historical banks have revitalised their customer experience and consider how these solutions can begin to trickle through to the retail sector.

Where banks have excelled in recent years is the introduction of tech onto their bank’s floors. At HSBC’s New York branch, for example, you can visit Pepper, the in-house robot, who can help with everything from ATMs to customer support, while also recommending a human colleague where relevant. While this hasn’t yet hit the mainstream, HSBC has begun to understand how the “tech-ing up” of its stores begins to make it more attractive to customers.

When  robots aren’t an option, these changes are also taking the form of digital signage in the banking sector, with tailored campaigns to customers of a certain age demographic, or even simply supplying tablet options that avoid the waiting times for individual staff members. Vitally, this customer face-to-face interaction when necessary, something 77% of customers want for more substantive conversations, while streamlining the experience before this interaction is even needed. Understanding this interaction between human and digital contact remains the constant balancing act of all sectors of retail, as we try to estimate the average levels of digital literacy in the consumer population.

Leading this on the high-end high-street is Reformation, the American sustainable clothing brand, which opened a Bond Street store in 2017 that boasts a new approach to changing rooms. A tablet in each individual cubicle allows customers to request different sizes and styles, with no need to call on the fitting room assistant. By harmonising the wider browsing of an online session with the higher likelihood of purchase in physical stores, Reformation seems to be doing tech advances just right.

That said, any brand development needs to come cohesively with its overall image, otherwise risking a disconnect in their messaging. For instance, NatWest’s tests of its AI Assistant, Cora, embraces this, with Cora appearing on computers, mobiles, and in store; ensuring a synchronised cross-platform experience that eases transitions in and out of physical branches.

However, this brand harmony certainly doesn’t end with tech – the entire brand experience should be one of consistency. In LucidPress’s 2016 study, almost 90% of participants understood consistent brand presentation to be hugely important, and considered less than half of brands to be actually doing so.

Central to this is an aesthetic alignment between online and offline, rather than considering them as entirely opposing channels. A notable example is the use of video content on screens in-store, which can bring your online image to your offline customers; something that inspires 58% of consumers to have a positive experience whilst shopping, according to our research. Forging this link between communication methods ensures a higher likelihood of recognition and inspires a more consistent presence in a consumer base, rather than risking a divided image.

With all things considered, there remains an extraordinarily simple aspect of the customer experience to assess; the happiness of staff. While tech updates and consistent branding remain pillars of good CX, the implementation of these experiences relies on a happy enforcer. Once again, HSBC emulates best practice in this area, with a staff relaxation room introduced to keep stress levels low in the highly tumultuous world of customer service. This, alongside a complete revamp of its branch presentation, has provided an alternative to mass closure, and makes strides towards Ipsos Mori’s findings that 44% of UK respondents want more personalised experiences in banking.

This should be what branches do best in comparison to faceless digital companies; yet, online bank, Monzo, took home the title of best bank for customer service in 2018, emerging fully from the shadow of established names. So, maybe in this case, banks need to learn from retail. With the often overwhelmingly friendly faces at Lush, and the near perfect service found at John Lewis, it seems that they may have the upper hand.

So how can retail stores respond? The answer seems clear; continue to strive for the exemplary personal service they have the opportunity to provide in physical branches; but with notable additions in branding and tech that can give staff the greatest likelihood of a receptive customer.

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