What can hospitality learn from retail when rethinking the customer experience? The retail sector is no stranger to having to adapt to new market conditions, with the competition from e-commerce. The more innovative retailers have transformed their real estate space into successful destinations by focusing on the physical experience of shopping, and arguably learning some lessons from hospitality on how to create unique experiences. After a year of Covid-19 related restrictions, most sectors are now rethinking their models to plan for a post-recovery market. Will retail and hospitality still have lessons to learn from one another?
Linda Ralph, Senior Vice President of the Global Centre of Excellence at on-premise media solutions company Mood Media, thinks so: “There’s no denying that traditional retail has been challenged in recent years, with consumers finding convenience in the online retail world. But the digital experience simply cannot replace the atmosphere, feeling and indulgence of the bricks and mortar experience - and this is what both retail and hospitality will always be able to hold on to”.
Rebuilding trust post-Covid-19
What happens when the all-important physical experience is halted? Retail, just like hospitality, has been one of the sectors most heavily hit by the Covid-19 crisis, with imposed closures at various times in most countries. A Mood Media survey conducted in Q4 of 2020 found that half of UK customers had stayed away from non-essential stores once lockdown restrictions eased, initially due to nervousness.
Linda Ralph highlights the importance of promoting safety measures to bring customers back to the stores once restrictions ease: “Making use of available tools which promote both a safe and enjoyable store has been key”, she says. “Additional to obligatory standards of cleanliness and hygiene being displayed at every opportunity, digital signage and audio cues as used in retail can convey safety messaging, a subtle yet highly effective way of easing guests back into hospitality settings through the use of sensory marketing solutions.”.
In the longer term, “it is paramount that hospitality brands explore every avenue possible to garner trust, re-establish confidence lost due to the pandemic and pave the way for a new type of hospitality if they wish to succeed in the years to come” Linda Ralph says.
Customer Experience Innovation
Innovation will be key to build a customer experience that deliver the new type of hospitality: “Brands need to be able to offer the consumer something beyond the purely transactional, providing excellent service that can’t be replicated online, offering expert knowledge, or spaces where people can safely get together and enjoy an experience beyond making a purchase such as community hubs or ‘phygital’ focussed stores”.
Personalisation is key, as is the use of sensory marketing according to Linda Ralph: “Overhead music, for example, should not be viewed as a commodity for hospitality in 2021, but rather used strategically to facilitate consumers' coming back to physical spaces and building a positive emotional connection to that visit”. Another form of sensory marketing is the use of scent: “Scent marketing can help guests “escape” to another place, a concept which should not be considered lightly in the times we are currently living in. Scent marketing research shows that there is a 40% improvement in mood after being exposed to pleasant scents - valuable information when looking at how best to welcome consumers back into hotels, bars, etc. whilst alleviating any stresses or concerns” she adds.
For hospitality businesses starting to recover and rebuild in 2021, “it will be crucial to understand exactly how the consumer mindset has evolved and how they can get ahead of the trends that will define the hospitality sector this year”. Beyond hygiene and cleanliness, the question of the hospitality experience has to remain a constant concern.