Communication consistency as a performance key for retail stores
Most times brands fail to make a lasting impression on their customers, is when their messages are inconsistent. With the emergence of e-commerce, the focus of retail branding has taken a shift of solely operating in physical stores to requiring a cross-channel communication.
This is why consistency plays a crucial factor in building and maintaining a brand’s identity. Customer experiences can mutually influence each other: bad experiences online can have a huge impact on performance in physical stores. On the other hand disappointing interactions in stores can negatively influence brand reputation online like receiving bad reviews and negative comments on Social Media.
Alignment of messages
Certainly, messages need to be constructed in order to fit different kinds of target groups and cannot be the same throughout several channels due to character restriction (e.g. Twitter post vs. blog post). Millennials process messages rather particular in contrast to Generation X or Boomers. In this case the desired outcome is not in line throughout the addressed target audiences.
Nonetheless, all messages communicated externally should be aligned with the brand’s identity. Whilst brand communication is a big deal regarding Social Media and e-commerce, some tend to forget that also brick-and-mortar stores highly contribute to a brand’s identity and how customers perceive their experiences with those brands: Visual merchandising, store design and interaction with the staff are some of the key factors.
Therefore, effective internal communication between head office and in-store teams is of high importance.
In-store teams as representatives of the brand at the POS
The number of part-timers in the retail industry has increased immensely. The Labor Department collected data since 1968 and it shows that compared to back then only 13,5 % of US employees being part-timers, the number has increased to 17,9 % in March 2018.
Working only a few hours per week in retail results in employees not being up to date with campaigns, changes, new products etc. when they start their shift. Especially students work little hours and probably have exams and presentations on their mind constantly.
Imagine they are being approached by customers who saw a new campaign on Social Media. Due to missing briefing they will not be able to lead the customer to the right rack in the store where the products of the campaign are displayed. This situation has two outcomes:
1. The customer is disappointed and won't purchase anything; he will furthermore get the impression that the staff is untrained and unprofessional;
And 2. the employee will be annoyed because he or she has not been briefed in order to complete his or her job efficiently.
Communication is the key
The staff represents the brand in physical stores to the outside world. Therefore, they should always be well informed about what’s going on.
Communication in retail is predominantly a top-down process. Head office makes decisions on new campaigns, store principles, tone of voice or the product range.
For big companies which are located in more than one country, continent and time zone, transmitting those demands are becoming more and more challenging and complex.
Most information from the top is transferred via email to the store managers and more often than not the information flow falters here.
Keeping consistency in internal messages is essential in order to execute consistent brand messages to the outside world. How to achieve this consistency?
Retail is becoming more and more fast-paced, with more frequent updates and changes in store layout, customer experience, collections etc. Furthermore, retail employees do not work all day on one and the same desk. They move around, advise customers or rearrange racks in the store. This means that communication has to be shifted to a digital space.
Portable in-store devices provide easy access to information at all time and at any place. This way employees receive messages very fast without neglecting customers.
Compared to verbal or written information, visuals prevail in the efficiency of communication. The brain is able to process images faster than text. From an evolutionarily point of view that does not come as a surprise. The human brain has processed images in order to understand its surroundings for a much longer time than it has used the written word.
The chances that in-store teams perfectly implement visual merchandising campaigns in the way head office imagined it, are higher when visual information is provided.
Communicate in both directions
In order to achieve intended sale goals it is important to turn the top-down communication process into a circled communication.
Management will learn more from their own employees at the POS than only from their sales numbers.
Enabling fast feedback improves employee satisfaction and engagement which in return results in better customer experiences in physical stores.
Happy employee = Happy customer = Happy Sale.
About Tom Van Soest
Tom Van Soest is the CEO of Visual Retailing. Having worked in the fashion and retail industry for decades, Tom focuses on empowering brands and retailers achieve a smarter working framework through technology and a cohesive vision.