Is your customer experience magnetic?

Pitches. You win some, you lose some. The ones you lose hurt, but you get over it (eventually), learn and move on. Some though, are particularly hard to let go; the ones where you know your strategy and ideas could have made a huge difference to brand and shopper. And then the frustrating discovery, two years down the line, that the solution your nearly-client is now rolling out has totally missed the ‘future store’ opportunity.

A recent visit to Magnet’s new digitised kitchen showroom in Sutton was one of these discoveries for me. The missed opportunity? To transform the notoriously poor experience customers have when it comes to buying kitchens. This wasn’t a jumping-up-and-down, I-told-you-so moment either, it was more a head-in-hands rush of frustration at what could have been. I can’t let it pass without sharing why Magnet’s use of in-store technology has, in this instance, failed to really solve any of the problems customers face buying a kitchen.

Anyone who’s recently purchased a kitchen knows how painful and time consuming the process can be, with trips to showrooms interspersed with online research and inevitable home visits from so-called kitchen designers. Then there are the endless decisions around quartz worktops versus laminate, soft close drawers or cupboards, choosing colour schemes from miniscule samples, and hours spent on price comparison sites deciding where best to buy appliances from. It’s a major investment in terms of both money and time and can be a daunting prospect – a bit like buying a new car. But unlike automotive retail, very few kitchen retail brands have really innovated (apart from Ikea) to make a complex and fragmented customer journey more seamless, easier and even enjoyable.

Not just sour grapes.

Walking into Magnet’s new showroom, I’m met with several digital design tools that, despite initial intrigue, need further development if they are to holistically enhance the shopper’s buying experience. First there’s the ‘Bring Your Kitchen to Life’ display that allows the shopper to see what different door or surface finishes look like projected onto large HD screens that simulate a wall of kitchen cupboards. Visitors control what they see via an iPad. Whilst this area is obviously trying to address the problems customers have visualising what their choices will look like life-sized, image quality is not good enough to replace the touch and feel experience that many people come to the showroom for. Perhaps that’s why actual samples of doors, handles and worktops are also available to physically mix and match in the adjoining area. This leaves me wondering what the purpose of this tool is for customers.

Shoppers can use Kitchenality, a Pinterest-style tool imported from Magnet’s website, to build a mood board by answering a series of lifestyle and design questions. What’s great here is that it joins up the online and in-store experience. But there is no evidence of how this information can then be used by sales associates to help shoppers create their Magnet kitchen or to help build a relationship post-visit. There are also several range focused areas that aim to extend the display of sinks, taps and ovens. A good use of screens help shoppers easily browse and compare features (although badly placed lighting makes viewing the display difficult) But a lack of inspiring content – tips, tricks and advice to aid product choice – is surely a missed opportunity here. And there is a doubling up: a touchscreen with scrolling images of ovens sit next to a wall of real ovens that customers can explore.

The other main feature, and perhaps the most exciting technology-wise, is Build Your Kitchen, an interactive 3D modeller. Shoppers place small blocks – scaled down versions of kitchen units and appliances – on to a lightbox and watch on screen as their kitchen design comes to life in 360 degrees. VR headsets take this to the next level, letting shoppers walk around their newly designed kitchen. Again, a nice idea that potentially fixes a problem customers have imagining what their choices will look like in their actual kitchen space. But it falls short because it’s not connected to any of the other tools or the sales process. For example, shoppers are unable to input the design choices they made using the Kitchen Display tool, or access inspiration from their Kitchenality profile.

The user experience here also needs refining; image quality is low and it’s easy to misplace blocks on the light box.  As before, there is a lack of quality content to guide or advise on the dos and don’ts of kitchen layout (I’m allowed to stick my fridge next to the oven, for example). As a result, it feels like it should be an assisted experience, to be used with support of sales staff, rather than just letting shoppers go it alone.

There are three important lessons we can learn from Magnet’s use of technology:

1. Use In-store technology to connect not fragment journeys.

One of my biggest concerns is the lack of connection between the digital touchpoints and the rest of the customer experience – in-store and beyond. Each seems to exist in isolation and the result is further fragmentation of an already disjointed customer journey. The beauty of in-store technology is that it can be designed to integrate with the physical store and connect and enhance the sales and service function. It’s development and placement needs to be considered holistically and focus on how it can help customers and staff achieve their goals.

2. Work your content hard to inspire and convert.

Quality content is crucial within the store environment. Shoppers visit showrooms to access expertise and experience products first hand so they can make informed and confident choices. According to research by Trend Monitor, 75% of consumers buy their kitchen from an outlet where they can see and touch the products. It’s an opportunity to communicate a brand’s unique expertise and educate shoppers on products and services. Magnet is synonymous with kitchens on the high street. This heritage and expertise needs to be reinforced through inspiring content, so customers can benefit fully from the brand’s knowledge.

3. Understand the value of the experience as part of an overall strategy.

We must consider any experience holistically as an integrated part of the customer’s entire journey. Digital tools in-store need to support the store’s strategic role in solving customer’s problems, matching their expectations and supporting their need for a valuable experience.

We use Start’s CX Value Pyramid to understand what kind of customer value an experience needs to deliver within a brand’s customer experience or service strategy. The kind of questions we start by asking are based on insight into a customer’s needs and whether their priority is to save time or spend it. Does an experience need to simplify elements of a journey, saving time for customers and allowing them to do the shopping, hassle-free? Or help people spend their time in a rewarding way, getting an emotional response from shoppers that connects them to a brand (that’s not just about buying stuff)?

Giving people a destination, and a compelling reason to go there (again and again), is at the top of the value pyramid and what brands need to aspire to delivering. The customer value these experiences deliver defines a brand, builds relationships and drives loyalty.

Defining Value.

We’ve seen Ikea innovating with store format and technology recently to create experiences that deliver value and define Ikea for customers. Its Dining Club concept gave people the chance to ‘live’ the Ikea kitchen dream, entertain friends and learn to cook.  Ikea’s new store format in Westfield Stratford is not just a smaller, scaled down version of its out of town sheds, but part of a strategy to enhance convenience and define its service offer. As well as an order and collection point, the store is a planning studio to help customers with more complex purchases such as kitchens. Kitchen sales staff are on hand to answer questions and in-store content inspires and informs, taking some of the stress out of the kitchen-buying experience. It’s use of augmented reality in its Ikea Place app is focused on reassurance; helping customers visualise Ikea furniture in their homes before they visit a store.

A Magnetic experience?

The way technology is used by Magnet is a first for a kitchen showroom. But others will follow, or jump massively ahead (imagine if Amazon does to kitchen retail what it’s trying to do to grocery) and it will not be a point of difference for long. Magnet’s design tools go some way to aid decision-making and are fun to interact with (especially the VR headset for some shoppers). But, as they exist now, in isolation, I can’t see the long-term payback for the time and effort they require from shoppers. Once shoppers are over the novelty, will they see the value of spending time interacting with these tools in-store? The answer is only if they help them achieve their goals and bring them closer to buying a kitchen. It’s a brave attempt, but for this brave new world of retail, I don’t think, yet, they do.

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Kevin Gill Retail Director, Start