#RetailEXPO19: Enabling customer missions aids brands

Turning around flattening sales; retrying to establish a 'food on the go' strategy; and introducing a brand into the UK that few had heard of. On the face of it, not much would appear to unite the issues facing Dutch retailer HEMA, food retailer The Co-Op, and Italian outdoor clothes brand, Napapijri, respectively.

But, as their 'Power Panel' presentations to delegates on the first day of Retail Expo 2019 reveals, there is one solution that they all are using - not designing stores around products as such, but as places to enable 'customer missions' to happen.

"Food to go is a massively growing segment for us, especially in our urban stores," says Caroline Casey-Norbury, Co-Op's head of innovation and concepts, "but we've designed a concept store strategy that isn't around grouping products around meal deals, or around product groups that 'we' think shoppers want, but by helping people complete their mission of going into our shop, getting what they want, and getting out again as soon as possible."

It's been a similar story at HEMA, where, after realising restaurant customers were the most loyal, it's recently decided to embark on a five-year plan to convert all its 200 stores to have more on-site food (90% is now made on the day), and give people an experience that makes them want to go to the store more, and achieve their aim of eating somewhere nice.

"We've learned to think about our stores in terms of how they enable a mission to be accomplished - in this case eating - rather than as just appealing to a set customer category," says Andrew Jones, the group's format director. "It's really opened our eyes," he added. "We thought convenience and low prices would be enough to get people in but we were wrong."

In a similar vein, the pop-up store concept (initially with no actual product on sale) created by Napapijri, was also a masterclass in creating a place where a key aim was to connect authentically with local residents in trendy Shoreditch, but also inform them about the brand.

"The space was initially created to be an area for the local community to use, using the talents of local graffiti artists to decorate it, and only after that, as a place where they could buy product," explains Jason Lowdon, head of creative, Napapijri.

Added Gemma Ruse, creative director at StudioXAG, which brought the concept to life: "By creating areas where people could take selfies, and interact with us, we gained more than four million social media shares." The proof of this success has been in the pudding: it moved brand awareness from 8% to 34%.

Although each brands' objectives were wildly different, all agree that retail should no longer just be trying to sell product. Shops must, they agreed, find out exactly what customers' missions really are, and then try and support them as smoothly as possible. 

Casey-Norbury said: "Where we've trailed our new concept, growth has been double that in units of similar sizes. It proves the point we need to support shoppers' needs.”

She adds: "Just be arranging products as customers themselves would want to buy them, we've hit upon a great way of meeting shopper needs, and supporting our own growth plans."