Sainsbury’s introduces a smarter way to shop

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When we visited the Amazon Go store back in January, we were excited for the possibilities of till-free retail, and it hasn’t taken long for the idea to spread across the pond. Four weeks ago, Sainsbury’s opened the UK’s first till-free store, right in the heart of London.

As you can already use the SmartShop app in 100 branches of Sainsbury’s, we wondered if this is a novelty store, existing purely to promote the app; it’s certainly received a lot of media coverage. (Even the Queen has voiced an opinion, commenting on a recent visit to the Sainsbury’s 150th Anniversary store, ‘That’s an interesting tool.’)

But the fact that Sainsbury’s chose a busy, existing store made us think that perhaps this is something more than a PR exercise, signalling the beginning of our new retail reality.

There was only one way to find out!

Stopping traffic

The store does a great job of advertising to passers-by, with a wall vinyl in the trademark orange branding stretched across the store front, delivering snappy, impactful copy. You can’t walk past without getting the message.

On the day we visited, the store was heaving with shoppers, even though it’s a small store with only two aisles, and many of them were taking photos just like us. This suggests people were mainly visiting for the novelty factor, rather than doing an everyday shop.

However, Sainsbury’s were well prepared for any shoppers who were unaware of the SmartShop concept. As soon as we walked through the doors, we were approached by staff who were happy to explain the concept and ask if we needed help.

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Making it look easy
Inside, the messaging was just as visible as outside. We loved the simplicity and directness of the line ‘Scan and bag as you go’. This was the most prominent message, visible everywhere from fins and woofers to wall vinyls and bunting.

There was even a table by the entrance, piled with leaflets instructing shoppers how to use the SmartShop tech. The phone-shaped flyers were particularly effective, with simple, reassuring copy: ‘It’s easy’ ‘It’s speedy’ ‘& you’re in control’.

The tech itself is easy to use, as promised. You download the app, shop and then scan a QR code (so Sainsbury’s knows you’ve finished) to pay on your phone.

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Sign of the times
With only two aisles, the UK”s first till-free concept feels like a test store rather than a format Sainsbury’s are going roll out across the country – and we think that’s smart.

While it’s tempting to think of the self-service till as the mini disc to SmartShop’s iPod (a stepping stone to the next, more enduring innovation), there will always be shoppers who resist it, or who are unable to use it.

It’s telling that, despite being heralded as the UK’s first ever till-free convenience store, there was one till (called a help desk by Sainsbury’s) after all, just in case anyone had trouble using SmartShop. Even more telling? The new Amazon Go store in New York has announced that it will accept cash too.

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Sean Dwyer

WHS Carpet: 5 lessons brands can learn from the Twitter parody account

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If you’re not familiar with the WHS Carpet Twitter account, think of disgruntled/highly amused Brits sharing photos of their shopping experiences.

Named after the blue carpets of a certain retail brand, the account was created by an anonymous Twitter user, who thinks that said brand is letting standards slip, and it’s since grown to include other retailers too.

The same grievances crop up again and again – most of them easy fixes, causing unnecessary hassle for the shopper and bad feeling towards the brand.

With the so-called ‘retail apocalypse’ looming ever nearer (or already happening, depending on who you talk to), brands can learn a few important lessons from WHS Carpet.

1. Always look presentable
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Gaffer-taped flooring; shelves propped up like cars with stolen wheels; and hand-written signage on lined paper: a scroll through WHS Carpet proves that customers do care about superficial details and they will share them on Twitter – so it’s false economy to ignore them.

People want to root for the brands they’ve grown up with (remember all the nostalgic lamenting on Twitter when Toys R Us folded?) – that’s why they’re so critical when their expectations are not met in store.

2. Be clear with pricing
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Would you rather have two bags of chocolate buttons for £2, two for £3 or one for £1.29? If you’re in a rush, the answer is probably none at all. Busy shoppers don’t have time to work out complicated pricing; it’s better to have no offer than a confusing one.

This could be remedied by implementing a clear pricing strategy and empowering staff to to stick to it e.g. No discounts less than x% and Only one ‘x for £x’ offer per product.

3. Strive for synergy

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A common feature of the WHS Carpet account: products supported by a completely unrelated campaign, like the Easter campaign above, being used to promote a mishmash of household products.

Other examples: a book store’s ‘Everyone’s talking about’ message, probably designed to promote a singular, popular title, being used to highlight various baby board books; and bottles of spirits in a supermarket, accompanied by a ‘Dry January’ campaign.

If staff are continuously having to push products unrelated to the campaign created by an agency or Head Office, then perhaps it’s time to introduce a few generic themes to use in emergencies.

4. Stay up to date

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Christmas promos in March, annuals for years gone by, merchandise for now-defunct boy bands… there’s something so unsettling and uninspiring about seeing out-of-date stock and comms.

Retail is all about meeting customer needs; if the time for needing it has long since past, it shouldn’t really be on sale.

5. Don’t make them laugh

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One sarky Twitter post from a disgruntled customer might not make much noise, but a post from a highly amused customer who has spotted a clanger? That’ll spread like wildfire.

When it comes to comms that could be misconstrued, brands could give stores a list of all the products it must not be used with.

The heat is on for the high street

When there’s a new story every week about retail businesses going into administration, brands are under immense pressure to justify their presence on the UK high street, and to prove that they’re doing enough to avoid closures and job losses.

From holes in the floor to incorrect pricing, you can bet that after taking snaps of these gaffes, shoppers don’t stick around to buy the thing they came in for.

WHS Carpet shows that the minutiae of the retail environment has a huge effect on shopper experience – and brands can’t afford to ignore it.

This article first appeared on The Drum website.

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Sean Dwyer

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