Don’t you think that genuine, beautiful shop experiences always come from the people who work in the shop?
In other words, the most important thing in retail is people.

I have always loved shop design. There is something magical in the creative impact from colour,  materials, lighting, and textures. I admire it to this day, the way that true experts in shop design bring these elements together. I have also been fortunate to work alongside some extraordinary exponents of visual merchandising. From fashion to home, expansive windows to small precious displays, I have been in awe at their skills. They also happen to be some of the nicest people you would ever meet.

Beautiful shops are not easy to deliver. It is not just a checklist, slide rule process. There is real creativity, skill, vision, and collaboration is delivering such shops. We are fortunate to still have many such spaces in the streets of the post-lockdown world.

But despite my origins being closer to this shop design & VM world, my experience has taught me that the best-ever experiences come through the interaction of people. Specifically, those between customers and shop colleagues. This is back to basic principles, but customer service whether sophisticated, or spontaneous, is the key to the survival of physical retail.

I am reminded of this fact, whenever I take clients, or retail tourists around the streets and shops of London, and elsewhere. And I am pleased to report the authenticity and warmth of the interactions are greater than ever.

For some businesses there is a strategic elevation of the role and delivery of services. Brands are creating ‘Ambassadors,’ whole role is to communicate and sell the brand to the customer. Their jobs and their pay is not related at all to the volume, or value, of the products that they sell. Their value is recognised beyond the immediate, to the promise of the future. Their value is to create those favourable and unbelievably essential first impressions, and then to grow these into loyalty over the longer term.

There is an important element behind the scenes. The ‘ambassadors’ must love the brand they work for. Beautiful interactions come through genuine and authentic enthusiasm for an employer business. This may be the origins of the brand, the design and styling, the ethics and sustainability of the brand’s behaviour. But this cannot be artificial. Not even manufactured with training and generous wages, though these are of course important in the wider context.

Above all, they must feel valued by their employers. There must be a two-way conversation. A two-way listening and learning process. A two-way education. What self-respecting retail business does not listen to its employees? What smart or sensible retail business does not learn from its employees?

My personal litmus test for the ‘state of the customer service artform’ is Lush. There are many others which I do, and will talk about, with similar enthusiasm. Lush is up there with the best.

My usual scenario when visiting Lush in Oxford Street is to be accompanied by senior executives, men in their fifties. Physically in suits, or metaphorically still wearing them, even if smart casual has been adopted on this occasion.

They stand on the threshold, in subdued disbelief. These men never buy beauty products. They never enter a beauty shop. They are ready to turn. But as the assistants greet us, guide us into the shop interior, these men melt like bath-bombs in soapy water. It is a beautiful thing to behold.

Minutes later they emerge clutching gifts for their families. Enthused and bemused. But not a single one regrets their purchase, or resents their gullability, because they have had a shop experience like no other. They too have fallen in love with the brand, through the love of the people who work for the brand.

On all my visits, it is clear that Lush sales assistants do love their brand, their products and their role and significance to the business.

Lush, Oxford Street, combines the best in shop design and visual merchandising. But the wow factor, the beautiful experience, is nurtured through Lush’s attention to its people, and their attention to the customer.

In the meantime…

Renting, recycling and the circular supply chain is featured in the new book – ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness – How to be an Essential Retailer’

If you’d like to read my book for many more retailer insights and best practice. And to here my thoughts on retail’s future, then that’s an excellent idea.

'Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer' Out now. Available worldwide across amazon and popular online booksellers

I hope that the sections on how to flourish in the ‘The life and times of the Essential Retailer’ how to evolve ‘Agile Organisations’ and excel in ‘Astute Strategies’ may be a source of inspiration and guidance. You will also find 70 action plans and 90 retail best practice insights that may help you to assess your current weaknesses and opportunities.

Enjoy your read.