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A lonely customer experience?

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Chocolate. There’s an emotive user experience for you, right there. And while the country indulged in its annual four-day chocathon, some poor souls had to make do with only a 24 hour binge. Who? Well retail staff for a start. At least there’s one Sunday each year they’re guaranteed a break.

I tried to make it worth their while. After one too many truffles – sea salt caramel, thanks for asking – I felt the need for a walk and some fresh food. Remember that? The stuff that has a sell by date and doesn’t come in a shiny foil wrapper. I decided that a stroll along my local high street was in order.

Question: Where were you?

As nice as it was to wander without the usual assault of pushchairs and elbows, it did feel more than a little unsettling. The place was empty.

The whole experience made me think about how much our high streets have changed over the past few years – and not for the better. Gone are the days when I could while away a whole day shopping in TMP Town.

Fashion outlets, book stores and music shops have been replaced by tired rows of charity shops, cafés and bookies. And let’s not forget the biblical money lenders. I’m not so much griping about these businesses, it’s just the lack of choice. Is it any wonder we’re abandoning our old shopping habits?

Take this Easter. Only last week the retail intelligence unit Springboard was forecasting an almost 5pc increase in footfall compared to last year. What happened? They actually saw a footfall declined of 4.7% over this weekend’s key shopping days.

So what’s going on?

We can blame the weather or pre-election nerves for the lack of bank holiday bucks being spent, but what our consumer research shows is that we’re turning to other channels to get our spending kicks.

Sit in traffic, pay for parking and run the gauntlet of some serious trolley rage – or order your shopping online? And if we don’t want to wait in for a delivery, click and collect services mean that the whole transaction can be done with minimal hanging around. And who’s got time to waste these days?

Do we ever need to leave our homes again?

Yes! For our own sanity and for the economic health of the nation. The boom in click and collect shows that businesses are figuring how to get the best out of online opportunities, but what happens when customers collect? Shoppers do still have to step past their front door – you just have to make it worth their while.

But what can the high street offer that online shopping can’t?

Answer that and we might just breathe some life into our town centres again. The thing is – and this is important folks – you need to know what you’re selling.

Think it’s a product? Wrong…A service? Nope…What you’re really selling is a lifestyle. It’s why so many of us pay for gym memberships we never use. Remember, you need to know what keeps your customers up at night –and their dreams too. We’re not completely heartless at TMP HQ.

Remember those cafés I mentioned? I never went to a café as a kid, nor a coffee shop. I went to a caff. You know the type – peeling formica tables and weak instant coffee on tap. Not any more – maybe somethings on the high street have changed for the better…

Think about Starbucks. Yes, it sells coffee – tons of it – but that’s where its similarities with the old caffs end. Back in 1971, Howard Schultz founded the global chain knowing that customers weren’t just looking for a caffeine hit. They wanted what we’d now call the “Friends” lifestyle – hanging out in a cool place with comfy chairs and friendly staff. Genius. Want to know why?

We all just want to belong.

At the heart of most of our buying decisions is a desire to fit in with our peer group – looks like we’re back to the all-important emotive user experience doesn’t it? So this week’s homework, my TMP padawans is this – what lifestyle are you offering your customers? What do they really want from you?

The Monachie Project’s consumer experience consultancy is ready to help you understand what consumers really need from you. Get in touch!

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