An upside to COVID-19? I’ve never seen Australian retailers adapt and innovate so rapidly.
From the headlines I’ve seen in publications like this one, it feels like we’ve seen more customer-led retail change in the last two months than the previous five years. But in a rush to get these new services to market, does the customer experience live up to the idea?
So I went on a road test.
I picked five new COVID inspired retail innovations and gave them a go. From retail giants Bunnings and Mecca to my local shopping centre, here’s the good, the bad and ratings of new retail experiences…
Bunnings delivery to car
Bunnings have exploded out of the e-commerce blocks with their latest innovation being delivered direct to the car boot. Given I once spent five hours lost in a Bunnings car park, I was sceptical. On a Friday afternoon, I placed an order for some potting mix to be picked up on Saturday morning…
- It was quick! I was in and out of Bunnings in four minutes and on budget. Surely that’s some sort of record?
- There were plenty of time slot options within the next 24 hours. And plenty of car bays available. Do people know about this, or are we just not in the habit of planning ahead?
- The delivery bays were right at the front. And right in the eye line of the non-VIP’s lining up to get past the Bunnings bouncer.
- The boot delivery booking was separate to the ordering process and was only given once the click & collect order was accepted. And facilitated by a third party, FlexBooker. Ideally, this would be integrated with the checkout process.
- You have to dial a phone number when you arrive. It went straight through to a dedicated team member. Still, this could be automated with click on arrival or number plate recognition.
- Sausage sandwiches not an option for delivery. Low hanging fruit here.
Overall experience: 9/10
What was a potential logistical nightmare turned out to be very smooth and much less painful than the traditional Bunnings experience.
Westfield Direct drive-through
Westfield quickly responded to the mall footfall drop by offering Westfield Direct – a drive-through service aimed at supporting their retail tenants under COVID restrictions. Available via the Westfield website, Westfield Direct presents all the retailers, majority food retailers, that will deliver to your car. I went for Japanese from Motto Motto at Chermside Westfield…
- I was pleasantly surprised by the range of retailers taking part. Some were a bit random – drive through Build-A-Bear anyone? But considering the logistics, there were plenty of choices.
- Upon arrival late on a Saturday afternoon, the pickup point was well signed despite having to navigate multiple boom gates and pedestrian crossings to get there.
- It was a COVID miracle. I ordered for 6:15pm, and our order was delivered at 6:15pm. On. The. Dot. And piping hot. A spectacular result for such a huge shopping centre.
- The ordering process is via the Westfield website rather than mobile. All communications are via email rather than SMS. If this is a to be a repeat purchase, it needs to double down on mobile. Uber Eats sets a high benchmark.
- There are plenty of opportunities to optimise the checkout experience, including automated localisation and persistent carts.
- While it was easy to get to, the pickup area was just an underground car park. Tremendous opportunity to create a bit of atmosphere and promote other Westfield services in this confined space.
Overall experience: 7/10
This is a considerable effort to bring together so many different retailers into one offering. The result was fantastic, the experience to get there has room for improvement.
Mecca virtual consult
Mecca was one of the first retailers immediately impacted by COVID with the shutdown of their in-store makeup services and appointments. They quickly responded with virtual appointments available and tailored towards beauty, skin, make-up and fragrance. I acted as a bystander on this one as my wife, Sarah, went on the hunt for the perfect “Betty Draper” shade lipstick.
- It all took place over FaceTime. No fiddling around with Zoom, app downloads or strange links. Just a simple call direct to Sarah’s mobile. Huzzah!
- It was really refreshing to see a real (and friendly) face, rather than a ‘bot’ virtual assistant. There was an instant connection which replicated the in-store experience.
- The Mecca service was, as expected, on point. In addition to asking what brands Sarah uses and her preferred lipstick texture, our Mecca Virtual Assistant even Googled “Betty Draper” to better understand the exact look and shade she was aiming for.
- The downside of the FaceTime format is it picks up a lot of store background noise. A branded booth might help minimise noise pollution and up the branding x-factor.
- The follow up to the call was an email with a PDF of the product recommendation. A more interactive email format with ‘Click to Buy’ would have aided conversion.
- Shade swatches on a hand delivered via video is great but it’s no substitute for in-person. Highlighting Mecca’s famous return policy could offset any hesitations.
Overall experience: 7/10
Mecca has delivered virtual customer connection in spades. The next step is to turn that connection into optimised conversion.
King Living virtual showroom
With the temporary closing of their showrooms, King Living launched the virtual tour of their Annandale showroom. Filled with their latest range, you have a giant, multi-storey furniture showroom all to yourself! Given the social distancing rules, I gathered that there’s no better time to go couch shopping…
- It is straightforward to navigate on both desktop and mobile. Loading times are reasonable, and the experience is optimised for both. Brilliant start.
- The images are crystal clear. The products have links, information, and even video to make it a really immersive experience. It is more detail than you would usually get in-store.
- Built into the 3D Insights platform, there are little touches like being able to measure product, floorplans and ability to take aerial views which come in very handy and make it a practical experience.
- There’s lots of furniture but no staff! With King Living’s recent announcements of virtual consultations through FaceTime and WhatsApp, I’d love to see this built into the virtual showroom experience to give it some life.
- For both the virtual showrooms and consultations, the functionality is not promoted throughout the site, including the Contact Us or Store Locator pages. Easy wins!
- This isn’t MVP territory, but a virtual showroom doesn’t have to be a store replica. I’d love to see them push the limits of how furniture can be demonstrated without the physical square foot limitations. Virtual showrooms reimagined!
Overall experience: 5/10
King Living has done a great job of allowing online customers to still visit their stores. It can go to the next level with a bit of imagination and customer service.
Bopple contactless cafe
Brisbane startup, Bopple, is positioning itself to be the fairer online ordering method for the service industry. They have a dedicated aggregator app (similar to Uber Eats) as well as the ability for food service providers to white label the technology for a flat fee and low ongoing transaction rate. Our local community shops, Everton Plaza, released an app to help their retailers facilitate contactless service during COVID-19. I did PLENTY of testing across coffee, pizza and banh mi during the lockdown…
- The dedicated Bopple app remembers previous orders and payment methods to allow a regular coffee order to be done in under ten seconds. Perfect for pre-caffeine brain.
- The ability to white label a delivery app is not to be undersold. Our local shops were able to use their brand to create campaigns for the app promoting exclusive deals for first-time use and different days of the week. It keeps it very fresh!
- Customers are kept informed of the progress of their orders from acceptance through to ready for pick up via Bopple’s inbuilt messaging system. Unless…
- Some retailers take longer than others to get their processes right. In the early days, the local pizza shop had us waiting over an hour for the order as it was lost between systems. Teething problems but it shows the importance of training and onboarding.
- Each retailer can turn its availability on and off at will – including whether they are delivering or pickup only. Consistency will be critical for habitual purchase.
- Despite being an aggregator for our local shopping centre, orders can only be placed with individual retailers. There’s an opportunity to increase stickiness and spread the love if orders can be aggregated across multiple retailers for one pick up point.
Overall experience: 8/10
The Bopple service has allowed local food service businesses to take control of their contactless service without giving away the farm. And it is mostly a smooth experience. Operational processes, not technology, are vital here!
We have five brilliant examples here of how Australian retail can innovate, and innovate fast, when pushed. Sure, not all the experiences are perfect but in all cases they are perfectly functional. Some even exceed their traditional experiences. If this can be executed in two months, imagine what they can do in 12. The bar has been raised. The challenge is to keep raising it without a global pandemic applying the pressure.
Nathan Bush is the founder of e-commerce consultancy, 12HIGH, and is host of the Add To Cart podcast. He was previously group digital manager at Super Retail Group and was placed in the Top 50 People in E-Commerce four years in a row.