As part of The Retail Exchange podcast series, business journalist and broadcaster Declan Curry chats with Bridget Lea, director of stores, online, multi-channel and supply chain at O2 about the brand's store of the future rollout.
DC. You have a store of the future – you’ve been doing some thinking about what a store design should look like. Tell us a bit about what you’ve got?
BL. That’s right. If you think about mobile phone retailing, it’s been quite traditional, functional and transactional in the past, and what I wanted to create with the stores of the future was to turn the mobile phone stereotype on its head and create spaces that were inspirational, beautifully designed, where customers really wanted to spend time and learn more about technology.
DC. Describe the store to me – the store of the future?
BL. Our version of it is very much about attracting customers from the high street. We have an issue within our sector that footfall is in decline so it’s really important that we pull people into the store. And then when we get them in the store, there's something really exciting and compelling to do. We've done that by creating really interesting and inspiring windows to start. Within our store of the future we don’t necessarily lead in with phones and we definitely don’t lead in with price; we lead in with interesting technologies that customers are intrigued by, interactive windows that customers can touch, play and interact with. Then when we get the customers through the door, again, you're not into a store straight away, you're not into selling space, you're into what we call an ‘inspire zone’, and in that zone it’s an area where customers can play, learn about new technology, interact with our gurus; it’s a very inspirational space. Once you're through that space, that’s when you start to get into what would be seen as more selling space, but in that area, again, we've treated the space quite differently. We now have a large area in the middle of the store; it’s a huge table where customers can sit down, interact, they can plug in their phones and charge, they can hot desk, have a meeting there, or they can actually interact with our gurus and advisors in the stores. So again, just going back to the traditional mobile phone store, it was about come in, transact and leave. These stores are more about coming in, interacting with our people, learning more about connectedness, and hopefully being a little bit more inspired by technology.
DC. It’s not just the transaction, you need that social engagement...
BL. Absolutely, and when we were looking at how to design those spaces, places where people wanted to come in and spend time, we actually didn’t look at other retailers, we looked at hospitality – we looked at hotels. Who were the people that were doing it really well, and what was it that they were doing that just made their customers very happy about spending time and drinking lots of expensive coffee, for example, when they're having a meeting. In these stores, we serve coffee as well to people that are hot desking, but we also do use these as social spaces so our people in the stores have sessions with older people to teach them about technology; we have sessions with parents to teach them how to keep their kids safe online. They really are community hubs as well as more traditional stores.
DC. What does the future of retail look like and feel like to you?
BL. I think in the future stores will definitely be more experiential. There'll be larger spaces with lots of experiences, where you can touch and feel the product, but I can also interact with great individuals that understand the brand and know how that brand can benefit me as a customer. I potentially will want to dwell more in those spaces as well, so I probably will want a cup of coffee or a glass of water. And I also want to be able to shop in store but maybe save my purchases and continue to look online later on. So I think this whole multi-channel piece between shopping online and shopping in store will become a much more important factor in the future.
DC. Tell me about your role – director of stores, online, multi-channel and supply chain. It’s an enormous remit!
BL. It is a really large remit and my role grew last year. Predominantly my background is stores, so you know, bricks and mortar retailing is where I've spent most of my career, moving into online, and I've got a great online team. The multi-channel piece is really about how we blend all of the channels together and create that seamless shopping experience. And then supply chain was an additional bonus that I wasn’t sure I was going to get, but obviously it’s great having that within my remit too.
To listen to the full interview, visit www.theretailexchange.co.uk