Boosting Customer Experience on the Irish High Street


Online sales are rising in Ireland and putting pressure on the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers. We look at how businesses can improve their in-store customer service, and the impact it might have on the high street.

Retail Ireland, the body that represents over 3,000 retail outlets in Ireland, revealed in its February 2018 monthly monitor, ‘Disruptors reshaping consumer behaviour’, that retail sales values dropped by 0.7% in December.

Sales in department stores fell 4.7%, with fashion, footwear and textile sales decreasing by 0.8%. Year-on-year sales were more positive, with department stores up 5.1% since December 2016, and fashion, footwear and textiles up 2%.

While overall retail sales were 4.5% higher than the previous year, this rise was markedly lower than the 12% jump seen in Irish B2C e-commerce sales over 2017. So how can high-street retailers improve the store experience to boost sales?

Virtual shoppers

“Annual sales have increased, but they are lagging behind overall consumer spend and economic growth,” says Thomas Burke, director of Retail Ireland. “There has been an increasing migration of consumers to online. They’re more comfortable than ever shopping in the virtual world, and, with 70% of all digital purchases transacted on websites based outside of Ireland, retailers are acutely aware of the challenge. Failure to act in the short term will lead to closures and the gradual disappearance of certain retail formats from our high street.”

Making customer service a key differentiator between bricks-and-mortar stores and online is crucial.

“Shoppers remembering bad service is the single most damaging thing to a retailer’s brand,” says Burke. “Creating a better in-store experience encourages more dwell time in shops and makes your store a social destination for friends and families.”

Staff training

Burke says training can help retail staff home in on basic service skills, from greeting customers to showing empathy and friendliness. “It’s about ensuring that these communication skills are built into company culture,” he says. “The customer must be at the centre of everything. As Irish people, these skills tend to come naturally, but it’s about being personable and taking time to understand a customer’s needs.”

Burke also says more retailers are setting up in-store food services or pop-up cocktail bars to encourage shoppers to come in and spend more time.

Charlie Boyle, CEO of training group Customer Service Excellence Ireland, calls this ‘retailtainment’.

“It’s no longer good enough to just have a line of products on sale,” he says. “You need to think about the overall experience, including visual merchandising, which encourages a shopper to go on a journey inside the store. That includes ambient lighting or higher-quality music being played,” says Boyle. “They don’t get that interaction, engagement or entertainment online, and as humans we still want that.”

He agrees that staff attitude is key. “Employees are actors on the retail stage. They need to be motivated and understand your retail vision or they will become disengaged, affecting customer service. It’s about treating staff better and recognising great performance with a ‘Well done’. It’s remarkable how peer-to-peer praise can make staff more engaged.”

Revenue boost

“If you invest in your staff, the pay-off is immediate,” says Michael Killeen, chairman of customer experience benchmarking and training firm The CX Company. “You see the difference the next day because your employee is happy.”


“Creating a better in-store experience encourages more dwell time in shops and makes your store a social destination for friends and families”

Thomas Burke, Director, Retail Ireland


He adds that improving the customer experience has tangible business benefits, such as increased revenues, better productivity and enhanced brand reputation. This includes a customer being 2.7 times more likely to keep doing business with you and 3.6 times more likely to buy more, according to The CX Company’s Ireland Customer Experience Report 2017. This can lead to word-of-mouth recommendations, making up over 70% of new customer leads in some sectors. Businesses may also see falls in employee churn and the cost of customer complaint resolutions.

Working with online

Retailers can benefit from viewing online not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to achieve better customer service.

“You need to integrate offline and online and take the technological bells and whistles into the store,” Burke says. “You don’t want both teams competing with each other in terms of sales in separate silos.”

This omnichannel approach could entail introducing technology, for example apps, that enable easier payments, boosting productivity and reducing queue times; creating a digital enquiry point and collating more customer data, enabling the targeting of more personalised offers, says Kenneth Keogh, director of business development at Fujitsu Ireland.

“You could have more interaction between online and the store, meaning that you can get customers to ‘click and collect’ in store, gathering data that allows you to know what customers wear, what size they are,” he says. “You’re creating a digital village where you know every customer very well.”

In time, he suggests, this could lead to in-store technology that might involve, say, robots recognising a customer’s face, which works as a form of greeting and aids understanding of a customer’s needs, or smart mirrors in changing rooms, which could help customers choose matching products and communicate with staff, who could then bring the clothes directly to the changing room.

“Customer service can be bolstered by technology,” says Keogh. “At present, a quarter of customers feel they have a poor in-store tech experience. Retailers have to give them the service they want.”

Retail strategy

“We’re continually investing in staff training and product knowledge,” says Michael Walsh, marketing director of clothing brand Dubarry. “In the case of footwear and clothing, trying on is a very important part of the decision-making process. Well-trained staff are vital to advise on product selection and correct fitting.”

The more that staff know about a product, the more confidently they can sell it to a customer. This can also help customers make a more informed choice and improve confidence in the brand.

Walsh says Dubarry wants to keep technology in the background and provide customer service via its trained employees. “[We] let our staff, our products and our professional imagery represent who we are as a brand,” he says.

Bob Johnson, owner of The Gutter Bookshop, says its customer service begins at recruitment bringing on board people who “love books, are friendly and want to talk to others about them.

“The level of knowledge and advice we can give isn’t something you’ll find online,” he says. “In addition, we’re part of the community through running book clubs and author events. Customer service has been vital in our eight-year success. It builds revenues and our reputation and makes our customers happy.”

How to build better customer service:

  • Staff empathy – through training programmes or at the recruitment stage, you need to develop your employees’ empathetic skills. They should be able to show the customer that they understand what it’s like to be in their shoes.
  • Use of in-store technology can help minimise customer time and effort. Use digital helpdesks, touch points and payment technologies to reduce queues.
  • Personalisation – use data to create offers and deeper emotional connections with customers.
  • Refurbishment – create ambient in-store lighting and sound. Make your store welcoming.
  • Engagement – let customers ‘touch and feel’ and interact with products. Provide areas where they can sit down and eat or drink.
  • Communication – be friendly, greet your customers, respect their private space but be ready to help.

By ContentLive



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