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“The bricks-and-mortar retail trade needs friendliness”

F.t.l.: Jens Fischer (K.U.L.T.OBJEKT), Svenja Brüxkes (IFH Köln), Dr. Sebastian Gundel (Obi) and Bert M. Ohnemüller (Neuromerchandising Group) – Photo: R. Moers

The increasing digitalisation of the retail trade was also one of the key themes at this year’s TASPO Talks at spoga+gafa. What can the bricks-and-mortar trade learn from Amazon and co.? How can it hold its ground? What does the customer really expect? Which digital assistants are needed at the POS?

On the Monday of the trade fair, Dr. Sebastian Gundel (Executive Director Customer Offer, Executive Director Corporate Marketing as well as being responsible for Obi Next), Jens Fischer (Experience & marketing agency K.U.L.T.OBJEKT), Svenja Brüxkes (Junior Project Manager at IFH Cologne) and Bert M. Ohnemüller (Executive Director of the Neuromerchandising Group) discussed these and similar questions in the Forum Garden Café. The event was hosted by Renate Veth (TASPO GartenMarkt).

All of the experts agreed that one cannot beat Amazon in its core competences. So, the bricks-and-mortar retail trade shouldn’t even attempt to emulate the market leader. However, all of the retail traders are at the moment faced with the challenge that digitalisation presents. The living and furnishing sections are very strongly represented on the web already. But also for the green industry, the online channels are becoming increasingly important. “However, small companies shouldn’t overtax themselves with their online presence,” warned Gundel. “One doesn’t have to present every product online. It is more important to develop one’s own strengths.”

One of the biggest strengths that the retail trade has compared to online trading is the human aspect. This is why the salesperson at the POS plays a decisive role. “Digital doesn’t smile,” stressed Ohnemüller. “The trade always was and still is the encounter between people.”

Sales people should be business partners at eye level for their customers. The expertise is also important, because many customers inform themselves in detail before even entering a shop when they intend to make a major purchase. Ohnemüller’s answer to the question what the bricks-and-mortar trade needs most urgently was very clear: “Friendliness!” Whereby this is not just about when dealing with customers, but also about how the management treats its employees.

Ohnemüller: “No customer feels at home in a shop, where the employees don’t feel at home.”

Brüxkes stressed that a further strength of the bricks-and-mortar retail trade is that one can offer the customer special purchasing experiences there. “Offer something important, something surprising, something that sticks in people’s minds.”

The very fact that one can actually see the goods, and touch them is an advantage compared to the digital trade. Whereby it is not absolutely necessary to stock every product on-site in every colour or execution. Examples suffice in order to satisfy the haptic needs of the customer. One can present the remaining offers of the product to the customer on digital channels. Gundel: “The retail space will change in future. We cannot do without digital assistance in the trade. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t introduce online shops into the stores. The customer can order online much more conveniently from the comfort of his own sofa. The experience factor has to be exploited in the retail trade.”

The garden planner of the DIY store Obi was presented as an example for digital storytelling in the retail trade. This shows online all products in a completely user-oriented manner. Regardless as to whether the customer is planning a summer house, a terrace or a garden pond, he is given design tips, material suggestions, a plan with a list of materials and DIY building instructions for each of his projects. “Many people occupy themselves with a project for a relatively long time before they actually put it into practice. On our site they have the possibility to try out different versions,” explained Gundel. “In this way one can draw the customers’ attention to different products.”

According to the experts, it is ideal if the different sales channels aren’t operated independently of one another. It is best if they are interlinked, make reference to each other and enfold their maximum effect in interplay with each other. For example, it should be possible to pick up goods ordered online from the retail shop.

Even if the retail trade shouldn’t try to emulate Amazon, one can learn a lot from the company, the experts stress. “Amazon always sees things from the viewpoint of the customer and orientates itself completely in line with their needs. This brings continual new aspects and innovations with it,” underlined Brüxkes. They are also exemplary in terms of speed. Fischer emphasised that Amazon simply knows its customers well: “Amazon continually collects information and knows what each individual customer buys otherwise and what he is interested in.”

This enables them to continually send the buyer suitable offers in a very targeted manner. It is thus also decisive that the bricks-and-mortar retail trade gets to know its customers better.


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