By David Dorf on Nov 19, 2012
When I think about next-generation retailers, the names that come to mind are Apple, Whole Foods, Lulu Lemon, and IKEA. They may not be the biggest retailers, but they are certainly growing fast. Success is never defined by just one dimension, and these retailers execute well across many dimensions, but the one that stands out for me is customer experience. These stores feel...approachable...part of the community...local. Customers are not intimidated to ask questions, and staff seem to go out of their way to help.
What's makes these retailers stand out in the industry? These retailers aren't selling products -- they're selling solutions. Think about that. You think you're going to the Apple store to buy a phone, but you're actually buying a communications solution that handles much, much more. If you carry an iPhone, your life has changed. The way you do things is different. The impacts go much beyond a simple phone.
Solutions start with a problem, which is why these retailers greet customers with "what brought you in today," or "can I answer any questions for you?" Good retailers establish a relationship, even if it lasts only a few minutes.
You don't walk into Whole Foods looking for cans of soup. You are looking for meals: healthy snacks, interesting lunches, exotic dinners. Its a learning experience where you might discover solutions to problems you didn't know you had. Mention what foods you like, and you'll get a list of similar items you had not considered. I didn't know I needed a closet organizer until I visited an IKEA and learned about all the options. They were able to customize the solution to meet my needs, and now I'm much more organized.
One of the differences between selling products and selling solutions is training. Visit any of these retailers' sites and you'll see a long list of in-store events for the benefit of customers. You can buy exercise clothing from Lulu Lemon, and also learn new yoga techniques, meet like-minded people, and branch off to other fitness regimes via their ambassadors. You can visit the Geek Bar at Apple, eat lunch at IKEA, and learn to cook at Whole Foods.
These retailers are making an investment in a relationship with their customers. They are showing loyalty to their customers before asking for it back. In the long-run, this strategic approach will outlive any scan-and-bag mentality.