Make it easy, make it popular: Focusing on the customer experience
by Martin Newman, The Customer Experience Champion
Harvey Nichols is a British success story. And it’s an older one than you’d think: for many of us, the chain is synonymous with Edina and Patsy’s Bollinger-fuelled antics in Absolutely Fabulous, but it’s been going since 1831 and now has seven outlets in the UK and several abroad too. It can genuinely go toe-to-toe with Harrods and Selfridges in the prestige department store sector, and what you might call its ancillary functions – restaurant, café, bar – have become destinations in their own right. So, they’re doing plenty right and I think anyone who has an interest in UK retail can point to Harvey Nicks as a genuine class leader.
I have to admit that I don’t have a totally clean sheet here, as I used to do some work for Harrods back in the day, but I was really encouraged to read that Harvey Nicks has – probably unwittingly, unfortunately! – taken a key piece of my advice and has made some bold, innovative moves to improve its service to customers. Specifically, it’s partnered with ecommerce solutions provider Global-e to introduce what are referred to as ‘localised checkouts’ to ease the shopping experience for its far-flung consumers. Essentially, this is technology which offers 21 languages, differing tax calculations and alternative payment methods, as well as low-cost shipping options and an easy returns service, all designed to encourage business from across the world, because Harvey Nicks is a genuinely global brand. Other providers in this space include eShopWorld, who deliver the same experience across different markets for Victoria’s Secret customers.
This is clever stuff, and it’s a perfect example of getting the technology right. The computing power is immense and sophisticated, but, as should always be the case, it’s seamless and virtually invisible to the consumer: all they see is a better, smoother service which makes their lives easier and more convenient. Don’t let daylight in on magic. Harvey Nicks has understood how critical overseas sales are to their business model as a high-end retailer, and have also grasped that, for high-spending international shoppers, borders are meaningless. A customer in Dubai or Saudi Arabia will want to purchase with equal ease as one in Hong Kong or Istanbul – and this technology makes that possible.
The new checkout systems were introduced in the second half of May, and Harvey Nicks have already reported “impressive results”. James Henry, their head of multi-channel operations, made exactly the point I would have made in his position, namely that this innovation basically puts international and domestic shoppers on a par in terms of convenience, and that’s absolutely key to driving sustainable sales in the global market.
This was a risk for Harvey Nicks. New technology as sophisticated as this isn’t cheap, and of course its introduction is a sunk cost: whether it works or not, you’ve spent the money, so you’re stuck with it. The onus is on the retailer to make it work. And it’s a fine balancing act. Customers from abroad may be a lucrative target, wherever they come from, but if your domestic market is left feeling like an afterthought, a necessary evil or like second-class citizens, the whole thing will be money down the drain. Each shopper must feel valued as an individual in the marketplace, his or her custom as important, whether it’s a pot of face cream or a bespoke evening dress, as that of any other. All of that makes this kind of integration a very smart move. Harvey Nicks have created a genuinely global community of shoppers, who can use their outlets anywhere in the world and find them familiar, comfortable and as easy to use as each other. The important thing is that they pay a competitive price and end up with the goods they want. Localised checkouts should do just that.
Three cheers for Harvey Nichols in doing this. It’s innovative, customer-focused and exciting. It’s exactly what the high-end retail market needs to be doing. Innovation can be infectious if it works, and I think this will. Break out the Bolly, darling!