Blue Eyed Sun

Blue Eyed Sun - gorgeous greetings cards


  • The Rise of Customer Experience in Retail

    The Rise of Customer Experience in Retail

    Last month I had an ‘experience.’ It was fun, exciting, inspiring and adventurous. It was sexy too and stimulated my imagination. It gave me everything I wanted and more. It opened my eyes to new possibilities. Before you ask, no, it wasn’t that. It was something quite different, although we I may blush a little when I share some of my customer experience in a retail store with you.

    As modern retail adapts and evolves, one key area of focus is the 'customer experience.’ John Lewis launched its tech incubator J-Lab to find new was of improving the experience of the in-store shopper as a way of retaining customers and drawing them in to spend more. Last year they trialled an after hours ‘private shopping’ service at their Cheltenham store, where anyone spending £10,000 or more could have the entire store to themselves. 

    My experience was slightly less glamorous, but totally unforgettable. It started on a day out in Camden, which I have not visited for many years. The area attract 28 million tourists a year and the labyrinth of shops and stalls is a retail experience in itself. Wandering around Camden Market and particularly the Stables Market with its ornate wooden doors and equine effigies was an adventure and full of interesting things to buy and eat. It started when a friend coaxed me through a shop entrance flanked by two giant metal robots, with a silver sign above the door that read Cyber Dog.

    Cyber Dog

    Greeting us with a friendly smile as we entered was a girl dressed in cyber goth attire that was a cross between Blade Runner and a Japanese manga creation. In fact most of the store assistants were spectacularly dressed and made up in bright neons, facial piercings, tattoos and futuristic haircuts. 

    The heavy bass of dance music reverberated throughout the store which looked like a spaceship with life size cyborgs and silver robots in cryogenic pods high up on the walls. At the far end of the ground floor an escalator took us down into the bowels of what felt more like a night club than a shop. 

    As we descended the beat got louder and the lighting darker. Everything was bathed in ultra violet light to show off the fluorescent garments and items available to purchase for your next big club night. At the far end of the cavernous underground space, with his booth up on stage and backlit by bright neon stripes, a DJ hunched over the decks with his headphones propped over one ear.

    The basement was made up of different caves to explore. It reminded me of nights out at the End or Fabric in London back in the day. It was fun being in this shop. Things got even more interesting as I scuttled nervously through the adult section and emerged the other side only to turn an even darker shade of crimson when I spotted a woman pole dancing on a small stage in the corner. It caught me by surprise. I grabbed the nearest item to me and headed for the tills. It turned out to be fluorescent yellow thong. “For a friend,” I gabbled at the assistant.

    I later discovered that there are other platforms in the shop where clubbers dressed in store gear are hired to dance above the customers. Aside from my dubious shopping choice, the experience was unlike anything I’d seen before - and this from someone who spent a year of his life partying I mean studying on exchange in Amsterdam.

    What impressed me most was that Cyber Dog understands what it is, understands its customers and goes all in on their commitment to provide them with a retail experience unlike any other. 

    Translating the Experience

    So what can we learn from this experience that can be used in other retail stores?

    Your High Street

    Councils and city planners can definitely do more to encourage fun shopping areas like Camden that are filled with independents, have atmosphere and draw tourists in. The Shambles in York and the North Laines in Brighton both attract bring shoppers from miles around for the experience. Encourage yours to do the same.

    You can work together with other local retailers to create events like the Christmas light experience in Holt or late shopping hours on certain occasions, like House of Cards and other retailers on St Mary’s Street in Wallingford do. 

    Window Displays

    Lights and window displays are a great experience for customers. Gorgeous Hair Boutique in Hove has the tiniest shop with the most incredible window displays. I’m sure customers love seeing them and talking about them. Christmas windows at Selfridges have attracted visitors for years. The next part of their experience is entering the shop.

    In Store

    What does it feel like for customers when they walk into your store? Are they greeted by a staff member at the door? How does the store look from where they are standing? What are the sights, sounds and smells? How do the staff appear? What are they wearing? Is it in keeping with your brand? Do they smile or are they on the phone or gossiping?

    Are there any demonstrations in store? You don’t have to have your team pole dancing in a corner to generate interest, there are plenty of other ideas you can put in place. Christmas gift wrapping classes, greeting card personalisation or even calligraphy demonstrations are a few I know of.

    What is the layout like for your shop? Are the shop fittings tired and worn out or are they inviting and enticing. One of the loveliest shop fits I’ve seen is Arrowsmiths in Broadstairs, where the owner was smart enough to keep the Victorian wooden glass cabinet displays fitted by the chemist that first opened the shop. You can put anything anywhere in that store and it looks good.

    The Oyster Gallery in Mumbles zones their two upstairs rooms by colour and the rooms are laid out like dining rooms filled with products. Organising the colours like this helps customers to imagine how the products might all look and work together to create a feeling.

    The late Lynn Tait always invested heavily in a Santa’s Grotto experience at the Lynn Tait Gallery for the children of Leigh-On-Sea. The kids had a wonderful experience and the parents spent money in the shop. 

    Senses and Feelings

    What sort of music do you play in store? Is it the right experience for your brand? What about smells? Cafes in shops have a head start on others, but there are oil burners with pleasant fragrances that can have positive effects on the experience customers have of your shop.

    Even the things you say have an effect. A reminder that the customer has made a lovely choice helps to alleviate buyer’s angst. Even asking the customer if they found everything they were looking for today adds to the sense of a helpful experience and can increase sales.

    You might think you are already doing a great job, but ask yourself if there is anything extra special you would do if Tom Cruise’s rep called you to say Tom wants to visit your store. How would you make his experience incredible? Free coffee? Private shopping? A free gift wrap service? As marketing expert Geoff Ramm says, “create OMG experiences for your customers.” And as I always say, “Make them shareable.”

    Are you Shareable?

    When customers love the experience you give them, they want to share it with others, so make it easy for them too tag you and drive virtual footfall to you by setting printing your social media accounts on your till receipts, bags, etc. Don’t just put the Instagram logo, make it easy for them by using your @handle. Use calls to action that tell customers why they should follow you on Instagram.

    Change is Coming 

    There is undoubtedly a shift happening towards experience over products. Millennials are said to treasure experience over things, we are all conscious that the we are consuming more resources than our planet can handle. Our abundance of stuff is causing us stress and there is a growing trend towards minimalism. With it is an awakening of consciousness where many are discovering that our happiness and the happiness of those around us does not come down to material goods. By creating incredible retail experiences and selling useful products that people want to buy, use and keep, change is an experience that we can all look forward to.

    How to Future Proof Your Retail Business

    Seven Habits of Highly Effective Retailers

    The Importance of Brand Story for your Business

    Customer Experience - Cyber Dog

  • Eight Changes in Retail Technology

    8 Changes Retail Technology

    There are some remarkable changes happening in retail technology at the moment - some of which have already made it into our everyday lives and some which might be on their way to mass adoption in the coming years.

    Here are eight interesting examples of changes in retail technology:

    Pepper Robot Retail Technology

    Robots and AI

    Softbank have been testing a humanoid robot called Pepper in thousands of retail sites. Pepper is fun, speaks 19 languages and is designed to recognise principle human emotions (by analysing facial expressions) and respond accordingly.

    Virtual Shopping Retail Technology

    Virtual Shopping

    Customers can scan a variety of products on a display wall at trains stations and airports and their order will be waiting for them when they return home. Early adopters include Home Plus in South Korea and Tesco, Ocado and John Lewis in the UK.

    Amazon Echo Retail Technology


    Voice recognition software has been getting more and more powerful. Amazon Echo and its virtual assistant, Alexa, make it remarkably easy to order almost anything by voice from the comfort of your home.

    Self Service Checkout Retail Technology

    Self-Service Checkout

    Mostly used by Supermarket chains, we’ve all adapted to scanning and paying by ourselves at self service checkout tills. Customers are able to move at their own speed and retailers are able to reduce staff overhead.

    Amazon Go Retail Technology

    Amazon Go

    Amazon have been testing a bricks and mortar grocery store concept in the US. Using their app, you simply walk into the store, grab the items you need and just walk out. There are no tills and payment is taken from your account on exiting the store.

    Payment Tools Retail Technology

    Payment Devices

    Companies like Square, Paypal and iZettle now offer solutions for anyone to be able to retail from anywhere. You can attach a variety of devices to your mobile device and take credit card payments.

    Contactless Retail Technology


    There are now over 100 million contactless bank cards in the UK. We are using them, our watches and our phones to make faster payments for small purchases. Alibaba have recently started debuting payments by facial recognition with 'smile to pay' tech at KFC in China.

    Amazon Drone Retail Technology


    Amazon have started making small deliveries by drone with their Prime Air service. Waiting times for certain products are reduced to as little as fifteen minutes from the time of ordering online in the comfort of your home.

    These changes in retail technology can seem daunting for small independent businesses and whilst we won't necessarily want robots manning all our stores in the future it is interesting to see which changes will be widely adopted and which won't. This is turn will give us insights into how consumers like to shop and how we independent retailers can adapt to meet key customer needs.

    Read more on the opportunities and obstacles on The Digital High Street

    How to get more customers to your retail business

    What do consumers want from retailers?

  • 5 Ways to Improve Your Retail Business

    5 Ways To Improve Your Retail BusinessI'm now a quarter of the way into The Greeting Card Project, my YouTube channel where I’m sending more cards each week to try and feel closer to my friends and loved ones. I’ve visited a different shop for each video and have been learning a lot about retail with each visit.

    Here are five ways you can improve your retail business:

    1. Websites

    People are already talking about your shop online so you have to make it easy for them to share and recommend you digitally. Most customers that visit your shop will connect to the internet every day. You need to be there for them too.

    Under each video that I post, I add hyperlinks to all the retailers and publishers that are included so that viewers can easily click through and visit from them. Unfortunately I have not been able to do this for all I have visited as some don’t have websites nor any social media presence.

    If you don’t have a website, people like me can’t hyperlink to your business and you aren’t able to maximise your business presence online. Remember that these links add value to your website over time. They’re like road signs on the digital information super highway, all pointing to your business.

    You need these signs and you need a website. You can keep it really simple and it doesn’t have to cost more than a couple of hundred pounds. Using software like Wordpress you can use templates that are predesigned to be mobile friendly. You can always add shopping functionality later. For now you just need a web presence, even if it’s simply a single page with nice photos of your store saying who you are, where you are and links to any social media accounts you use.

    2. Your Brand

    Shops with their logo on their bags have benefited most because their brand features prominently in the videos when I pay for the cards. I love being able to share the shop brands and so do your happy customers. For instance, the other day I overheard a lady on her phone nearby telling her friend that she was in a lovely coffee shop and didn’t know the name. What a missed opportunity that may be happening countless times a day. To be honest, I still don’t know the name of that coffee shop either. Don’t assume that all of your customers know the name of your shop.

    Make it easy for your customers to know your brand so they can share it. Have it up on the walls, on your bags and even on your pricing labels. Add your web address to your till receipts and to your bags so your fans can rave about you online to their friends.

    3. Get Social

    You don’t have to be on every single social media platform that’s out there. Not all your customers will be using these tools. A lot are though and the majority of the next generations of consumers will be using them in some form or another. We all need to plan for the future of our business.

    I recommend Facebook, Instagram and Twitter primarily for strong engagement on social media. I’m also getting a lot of shares on LinkedIn at the moment due to my large network of over 1,300 connections there; people from diverse careers that I’ve met over the years.

    The people who get the best results tend to post daily and have a planned schedule of what they are sharing and how they are engaging. They are not just blasting out their sales messages. They are helping and engaging with others. Always listen first before posting on social media. Choose the right type of engagement for your followers and your fans before starting.

    Initially you’ll benefit most on social media from improved relationships with suppliers. Most of your card publishers are using these platforms and want to share you with their followers. Tag your suppliers in relevant posts so that they can help you to leverage and grow your presence online with their fans. Make sure you allow yourself to be tagged. Some businesses don’t do this and I think they are missing out too.

    Encourage your employees, friends and family to follow and engage with your brand online to help get it going in the digital domain. Each like, share and follow adds to the importance of your business to the Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram algorithms that favour the most active businesses online.

    I have to say that businesses with a website and active social media presence are a lot more attractive to me when choosing who to visit and promote for The Greeting Card Project. I spend a lot of my time and energy on each video, so I’d much rather visit shops that will help my YouTube channel reach a wider audience and get more people around the world sending greeting cards.

    4. The Customer Experience

    Having said that, I’m glad I’m staying open, random and supportive when visiting retailers for this project. That’s because some of the most interesting shops have not had any digital presence. Ironically, these are the ones that I think would benefit most from being online as their back stories are so interesting and their shops are so marvellous. I’m not going to embarrass anyone by mentioning names, if you watch the videos you can probably guess.

    My favourite shops have a mixture of cards and gifts. I prefer trade shows that mix these categories up too as I think you can zone out if looking at too many of the same type of thing. Some supermarkets can feel a bit like this for example. Personally, I prefer the Aladdin’s cave experience, where you feel like you can hunt out treasures for yourself or your loved ones.

    One of the most interesting retail experiences for me was at the Tate Modern which has several different shops that all work in different ways. For example, they have Tate Edit, in which they sell fine art prints and home accessories. As an art collector myself, it was so lovely to be met be a well trained staff member who talked me through the various items with a soft sales approach. Given that purchases in this shop are hundreds if not thousands of pounds, a more refined lifestyle, interiors type of space with a knowledgable sales assistant worked well. It felt more special, exclusive and nurturing.

    Having a mix of products and price points zoned in the right way appears to be a strong way of maximising sales in retail, as are well trained staff who can help customers enjoy their experience.

    5. Be Open Online

    The people who are thriving online are those that aren’t hung up on protecting their own interests and just looking out for themselves. Marketing is different in the digital domain. You are more likely to be following and engaging with everyone in your digital community these days, including your competitors.

    For some this is hard to get their heads around, yet in our industry we all have an interest in encouraging people to send more greeting cards. It doesn’t matter if you are a publisher, supplier, retailer or employee for one of these businesses. It’s one of the reasons organisations like the Greeting Card Association and Giftware Association have been working so hard to include retailers.

    If you are not a member of these associations, I’d encourage you to have a look at joining them. It’s relatively inexpensive for retailers to get involved and they are doing some fantastic work online. Look out for the video I shot of the recent GCA Dragon’s Den style pitching event as a great example of what lovely things we can do if we work together to help one another.

    I’d love your support for The Greeting Card Project too. I need 24 more subscribers to get the vanity URL, which makes the channel easier to share online. Please click here to subscribe.

    Marketing Then vs Now

    What consumers want from retailers

    Seven habits of highly effective retailers

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