Could a focus on customer experience have saved BHS?

Adam Simon
Smart Technology Homes Being Built In South Korea
Retailers need to promote customer experience in the bid to win space in the smart home market (Source: Getty)

Retailers have learnt harsh lessons about failing to stay relevant; the collapse of BHS is just the latest casualty.

Like Woolworths and GAME before it, when BHS went into administration, the most common reaction was shock. However, the downfall of BHS cannot be considered a surprise. The company failed to keep up with the internet revolution and being outmanoeuvred by online retailers (such as Asos) or high street companies moving at a faster pace (for example Primark), has led to a terminal discrepancy between shop floor and sale figures.

Today’s retail climate is unforgiving to those that fail to adapt to the new digital era. Technology is having a real impact on the in-store experience. Simply stocking racks of clothes, homewares and electricals no longer attracts consumers. Kate Spade has taken window shopping to the next level, by installing shoppable screens in their window displays. And Burberry has long been lauded for marrying its digital presence with in-store technology.

Read more: The BHS collapse shows the retail world is yet to get it right online

In the home and furnishings department, this is shifting further as the range of internet-connected entertainment, lighting, heating and culinary devices expands. Consumers want to see these devices interacting together in a kitchen or lounge environment and sales assistants who can talk about connectivity andcompare products.

Being able to show how an entire home links together simply isn’t possible online. People need to experience the smart environment first-hand. This presents a significant opportunity for retailers to remain relevant.

John Lewis has led the way in the UK with a dedicated smart home installation in its flagship Oxford Street store, where shoppers are now able to interact with the smart environment, affording them a more educative shopping experience than could be achieved from browsing individual products online, or in their dedicated departments.

Read more: Four million of us now have a "smart" home

In our recent smart home consumer survey, CONTEXT discovered that 63 per cent of people do not understand the smart home concept, and nearly three quarters would like greater education on smart devices prior to purchase.

More pressingly, only eight per cent of UK consumers feel retailers are doing a good job explaining the smart home. This a golden opportunity for forward thinking retailers to capitalise on a category we think will be worth €6bn (£4.7bn) in Europe by 2019, the same size as the current small home appliance market now.

People are likely to depend on their most trusted retailers to understand the Internet of Things, and smart home products, before making large investments. This is not new territory for department stores. When Selfridges opened in 1909, it transformed the shopping experience, bedazzling customers with restaurants, a roof garden, reading and writing rooms and knowledgeable staff ready to assist the customer’s every need.

Read more: Turn your stupid house into a smart home with these gadgets

Department stores have previously played a key role in introducing new concepts and strange products into people’s homes, and helping them to become part of the everyday. Similarly, we are approaching a future where the Internet of Things is just as embedded in our modern lifestyle.

Retailers are at the frontline of this battle for adoption. Whether they realise it or not, it could be the difference between becoming another BHS, or a roaring success.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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