The next big thing in retail: the human touch

Lux Insights president Claire Booth speaks at Retail West 2014.

Lux Insights president Claire Booth told the Retail West Conference that shoppers want concierge service

The next big thing in retail is the human touch, says Claire Booth, president of Lux Insights, a Vancouver marketing research company. Booth was the keynote speaker at the Retail Council of Canada’s Retail West Conference in Vancouver on October 15.

When Booth, who had interviewed shoppers, retailers and marketing agencies, asked them about the next big thing in retail, she expected to hear about interesting technological innovations. But what they mentioned was the human touch; back to basics; providing solutions, not products. One shopper said, “Everything in this world is technology. We live on our phones. We eat, sleep and breathe technology. Sometimes I just want to be served.”

For consumers, online and in-store shopping are both part of the total retail experience, according to Booth. Consumers don’t care what’s online or in stores, they just care about retail—similar to online dating where you can use Tinder, a bar or Tinder in a bar.

In 2013, two-thirds of consumers switched brands or business due to poor customer service. Nearly all of them said the brand could have done something to keep them. “Consumers don’t really want to switch,” says Booth. “Consumers are about ease, they’re about convenience, they’re about simplicity. If you can surprise and delight them on top of that, awesome.”

She advises retailers to look at the hospitality industry and try to replicate some of its approach in stores. Retail employees need to provide concierge service, acting as advisors, problem solvers, consultants and advocates to help the consumer. She recommends hiring for personality, not skill. “Make sure you get the sort of person who is patient, courteous, kind and genuinely wants to help. Then hire and teach them the skills.”

Booth predicts that the valuable jobs of the future will be service jobs. The retail employee of the future will have a higher status, be knowledgeable, provide concierge service and command respect. As online shopping increases, potentially fewer employees will be needed in stores, allowing more time for training.

Better service can be provided online as well. Booth says what drives people crazy about shopping online is the lack of certainty and control, which she calls “What You See Is Not What You Get.” She cites Domino’s pizza tracking system as an effective way to keep consumers in the loop about what is happening with their purchase. When you order a pizza, you receive a confirmation and then can track your pizza on the website to see when it is in the oven, in the box and on its way to your door. And shoppers love being able to pick up in-store what they have just ordered or reserved online. They do not want to walk right into the store but to pick up their purchase at the entrance, concierge-like.

“As we become more and more technology-based, that need for the human touch, the back to basics, that human connection becomes that much more important,” says Booth. “And I think as retailers, that is where a huge opportunity lies.”