The ‘Convenience’ Experience

- in ARTICLES, The Drum
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I believe that there is a misconception about the meaning of ‘convenience’ in retail. I’ve had many discussions with colleagues and have read several articles which suggest, that convenience is solely about speed, about getting in and out of store with minimum fuss. The arguments generally follow a similar line when discussing with other experience creators… ‘retail experiences shouldn’t focus on convenience, they should focus on engaging with brands, learning and emotionally connecting; we should slow down when in store… convenience is for home delivery or Click & Collect…’

Ok, so that’s one way of looking at it and if you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll understand that the emotionally connected customer experience is one that I champion time and again. However, I think that ‘Convenience’ is a relative concept that depends on context, so I would argue that ease of navigation and handy location are not necessarily exclusive from inspiration and emotional engagement. I would suggest that ‘convenience’ is more aligned to ‘helpfulness’ than simply speed of mission, it is about making the customer fulfilment a joyful, simple conclusion to the customer journey and that fulfilment should occur at the point when the customer wants it most, on their terms. That is convenience. It’s about putting the customer’s needs first, understanding what will enhance their experience and making it easy to access, when they are ready to do so… and this may be a slow, involved process, if that’s what the customer wants.

Here’s an example: I’m in my local bike shop and the colleague who is serving me tells me about a new mountain bike route that she did at the weekend, she has photos that she posted on Instagram looping on a screen behind her, a map to hand and can give me directions to get there… this information is totally relevant to me, I’ve not had to go to the in-store ‘learning zone’, I’m in a bike shop and I’m engaged in a conversation with the colleague about mountain bikes… I’ve not had to go out of my way to find out new information, it’s come to me, when I’m ready and engaged… this is convenience… it’s slow paced, conversational and definitely not ‘in and out’.

A sector that is now making positive strides into ‘slow convenience’ is the world of cinema with the likes of Everyman and even more so, The Edible Cinema (for super experience junkies), at The Electric Cinema. These theatres of entertainment that offer food and drinks at your seat whilst watching a live broadcast of say Madame Butterfly beamed directly from the Royal Opera House, are empowering their usually friendly, educated and creative staff to deliver a seamlessly serviced, convenient and relatively luxurious customer experience. Of course, the customer can also just sit and watch a movie, without the bells and whistles, so the offer of convenience is there as and when it is needed, it’s not exclusive to the enjoyment of the experience. Convenience on tap…

So, convenience is relative to requirement and mission.

Then, what about convenience stores? If a large supermarket is to offer a ‘local’ convenience store format, what does that mean for the customer? Does convenience in this case mean that the store offers the same, but greatly reduced, range of goods or should the store focus on the demographic of its location and offer goods most suited to their needs?

Most supermarkets with a central city location taylor their offer to the lunchtime rush, or even offer by time of day; salad bars, hot take-away, a good selection of fruit and snacks, supported by emergency pick-ups of toiletries and breakfast cereal. All to compete with the likes of Prêt, Eat, Itsu etc. On the whole their offers are good and competitively priced and using the convenience experience dial set to ‘speed’, with self service tills and NFC payment, they ensure that the customer is in and out with minimum effort. This is good for the customer in the respect of speed and efficiency, but it’s also very easy for them to fall into the rut of buying the same ‘meal deal’ or salad bar lunch, day in – day out, simply because it’s easy for them to do so. It’s also very boring and supermarkets are now upping their games by doing more to encourage newness in order to retain the customers who inevitably pigeon hole them as the supplier of one particular type of lunch, that they can vary by shopping elsewhere and the more they shop elsewhere, the more they try new things and the more likely they are of stopping buying lunch at the supermarket in the future.

It’s unlikely that a busy customer who is time poor will look to engage with a brand and connect using ‘slow convenience’ in this situation… so, given that convenience is relative to requirement and mission, ‘convenience’ can then shift its stance to become based around easy, helpful promotion. How can the customer engage with a brand promotion that is relevant to them, quickly and effectively, when they are ready to make the connection, even when they don’t have time to dwell? The solution has to be digital.

At Euroshop in Düsseldorf this week, we’ve seen digital shelf edge brand promotion that can be linked to your store app or loyalty card. Quickly, tap to take advantage of the offer, pick up your new lunch choice, then move to the checkout to redeem your discount and try something new at a value price. Digital offers like this could present a whole new ‘food market’ section for retailers offering promotional ready meals and drinks, keeping a fresh updated choice to compliment the salad bar staples.

What happens though if we are on a very tight budget and are not looking for something new, how can a retailer convince us to try without intimidating or bamboozling us with technology? Say I’m a single mum of three, with little income and a limited budget to feed my family every week. I’m not going to explore areas of a store that are about engagement, I don’t have time and more specifically I’m pretty certain that if I need to stray from my regular, tried and tested value lines, it’s going to cost me more money that I want to spend. The answer here has to be around convenient disruption. The disruption is around purposefully interrupting our customer journey and the convenience is to do this with something that adds value to our normal shop.

So for example, our mum is buying bread in the packaged long life bread aisle and the retailer has conveniently swapped in a whole mod of baguettes at a value price. Now, mum wouldn’t normally shop baguettes because they live with all the fresh, ‘posh’ bread, that she knows she can’t afford. Dual merchandising this mod and disrupting her journey however gives her pause to see that these baguettes are at a really good price, so she takes the risk and pops two in her trolley. When she gets home she tells the kids that they are having French bread for tea and mum is a hero for giving them something posh and different.

Next time mum comes into store and heads down the bread aisle she finds that the baguettes have been swapped for bagels and so again she gives this a go, etc, you get the picture… the point being that disruption, whilst encouraging the shopper to try something new can be more successful if it’s convenient to the customer journey, it’s not annoying because it is helpful and relevant. This convenient disruption can actually improve the customer experience.

So, to sum up this piece. We’ve established that ‘convenience’ is a concept that is relative to requirement and mission; meaning that we can dial it up or down depending on when it is needed on the customer journey. Convenience can be disruptive, it can be fast or slow, but it is always helpful and considered and in the control of the customer, whenever they choose to use it. Inefficient home delivery that forgets the one thing that you need to make dinner is not convenient… it’s annoying. Having to wait for a colleague to find your misplaced order at Click and Collect is not convenient… its Tweet-worthy irritating…

Convenience is helpfulness, personalised.

This is the fifth and final article in series by Creative Director Andy Barlow that looks at how creating ‘content’ experiences can bring brands can get closer to their customers both physically and emotionally. 

About the author

Creative Director for high performing retail experience environments