Maze Feedback is an AI driven training app with feedback from real customers, encouraging retail staff to take responsibility for their daily training. Ahead of RWL’s kick off, Maze’s Mark Rice gave a sense of what is in store for in-store.

What are the big trends shaping retail?

There are multiple trends shaping the habits of modern consumers. And retailers are in the eye of the storm.

Sustainability remains high on the agenda of governments, brands and consumers. But this has to be balanced against the rising cost of living. For the majority of consumers, price trumps everything. A major theme of RWL and the coming year will be finding the balance between ethics, purpose and price.

Another notable theme is the rise of experience in the post-pandemic era. Retailers need to create physical stores which give people a reason to leave digital environments. It is difficult to compete with online channels for price, variety and convenience. But they are vulnerable to experience – particularly when it comes to the power of people.

How is the in-store experience changing with the rise of e-commerce?

The adoption of digital habits among consumers accelerated dramatically through COVID-19. Now these behaviours are much more ingrained – the UK is now the fourth biggest e-commerce market globally.

But retail was changing long before COVID. The internet and its powers are not new. E-commerce is still just a digital catalogue – but instead of a fax order, now brands have consumers with accounts. The only real innovation is in the field of logistics, speed and delivery.

These changes have forced retailers to evolve. In sectors like grocery, brands are investing in contactless shopping experiences. But will this work in other categories?

Human interaction is part of the experience. It isn’t friction you should be trying to remove. It is the oil which moves the engine of sales. Personal advice from helpful assistants helps add value to baskets, lowers the rate of product returns – and improves customer feedback.

Physical stores are now destinations – not just points of sale.

What holds retailers back from improving their in-store experience?

Most retailers think about their stores as part of an omnichannel experience. But do consumers think like this?

To think omnichannel is to look down the wrong end of the funnel. It suggests that online and in-store are disconnected – that they are for different people with different interests. But people just think about shopping.

An example of this disconnect is illustrated in the different approaches to data and feedback. Digital habits and trends are identified and addressed with immediacy. But in-store, changes are often only made quarterly. This is reactive – and likely too late.

Retailers and staff need fast feedback which can help them learn from today and improve tomorrow – not in six weeks time.

Why do retailers experience inconsistent results between stores?

Stores and staff are not clones. No two outposts are the same – nor will any two experiences for customers be the same.

Everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses. Some stores will have staff which have outstanding product knowledge and cleanliness – but others may excel in friendliness and speed of service.

Retailers need training programmes which sharpen strengths and soften weaknesses – tailoring support for the specific needs of individuals within a team. People want to speak to people. And employees want to do a good job. The onus is on retailers to provide their staff with the means to grow – empowering each store to positively shape the experience it offers.

What are the key drivers of customer loyalty?

Loyalty, quite aptly, hasn’t changed.

Society moves fast, but human values remain constant. People want to trust that the products they buy are legitimate and the prices are fair. They want a level of service which reflects the investment they are making. Discount stores have discounted expectations – and premium stores have premium expectations.

There is an old adage in sales that people buy people before they buy products. Providing excellent customer service is naturally a huge driver of loyalty for retailers – it elevates customers to ambassadors. Every interaction is an opportunity. The more customers recommend your brand and your people the more your business grows.

And what irritates customers?

People have long memories. Just as we love brands and retailers which offer genuine helpful customer service we do not quickly forget those which fail to meet expectations.

We have all had experiences where we have been ignored, or where a member of staff clearly doesn’t care about helping. This is incredibly dangerous for brands. There is little point investing millions in building a positive brand image only for it to be unravelled by one poor in-store interaction.

Staff are one of the most important sales channels. They are the physical, human embodiment of a brand. But, just as with Google Shopping or Amazon, these channels must be optimised and supported on a daily basis in order to provide the best results.

What technology should retailers be investing in?

Retailers should focus on technology which supercharges the customer experience, boosting interactions and driving positive sentiment through human connection.

Personalisation is a hot topic. We know how powerful personalisation can be for attracting consumer attention and loyalty. But what about personalisation for your own staff?

Knowledge is power. In a physical store, there are so many data points that it is impossible for any person to specifically understand where the opportunities for improvement lie.

Technology has the capacity to improve experiences by translating disparate data into actionable intelligence. More importantly – intelligence which is personalised to an individual rather than generalised across a workforce.

Digital doesn’t have to be complex either. Once a retailer signs up with Maze, we are able to help improve performance within weeks. Maze shows staff, through data and recordings, how they can improve on a daily basis. By improving customer service, our partners see basket sizes increase by 5-10% almost immediately.

And the only tech you need to get going is the clever device that sits in our pockets; a smartphone.

How important is gamification?

Gamification is powerful because it speaks to our ambitions and drivers as humans.

From the POV of a customer, it adds layers to your engagement with a brand. The ‘coffee club reward’ style schemes give consumers a sense of value – whilst driving loyalty and creating a long term bond.

But there is a huge opportunity for retailers to leverage these same qualities with their own staff. Maze essentially operates as a Strava-style app for retailers; it increases engagement, delivers recognition and encourages development. Retailers stack the odds of success in their favour through training, staff feel better supported, recognised, rewarded and capable of succeeding in their role – and customers ultimately have more positive experiences.

Where can I learn more?

You can hear more about the future of in-store experience at Retail Week Live 2022, where Carina Hummel of Specsavers speaks to Maze CEO Frode Berg about how they reimagined the in-store experience and got closer to their customers.

To learn more about Maze directly, get in touch at: mark.rice@mymaze.com