New technologies are prompting retailers to implement omnichannel strategies in order to improve the customer experience. In May 2016, children’s fashion retailer Tape à l’oeil launched an innovative concept in Roncq, in the north of France, with its “TAO Connect” store.
But why did the brand opt for phygital? How did this “laboratory-store” come about? What has the response from customers been? Damien de Blignières, Digital Business Executive for Tape à l’œil, told us more.
Damien de Blignières joined Tape à l’œil in 2014. It was his job to implement an omnichannel strategy for the chain, by combining brick-and-mortar with digital and offering new services to facilitate purchasing. In addition to this, assisted by a team of around thirty people, he’s in charge of improving the brand’s online visibility via its site web, mobile app and the social media.
Tell us about TAO Connect’
Damien de Blignières: It’s a “laboratory-store” which opened in May 2016. It means we can combine the best of physical and digital: thanks to the technologies deployed in this unique store, we can offer our customers the same range of products in a 60m2-space as we do in our 200m2 or larger shops.
We have three ways of selling. There’s a traditional brick-and-mortar store where customers can choose the item they want from the shelves. We’ve also set up a showrooming area where we present a sample of each item: with the touch-screen kiosks, we can send for a product in a particular colour or size from our stockroom upstairs. Customers can also use the kiosks to order a product that’s not in stock and it will be delivered either to the store or their home.
“Our goal? To improve the customer experience.”
With the touch-screen kiosks, you just need to type in a product name to find out whether it’s in stock, or, if it’s not, order it online. If the item is in store, staff can send it down from the stockroom via a sort of giant pinball machine located in the middle of the shop. The process takes less than a minute thanks to an inventory management system using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) that can locate items quickly. That’s actually our second objective: to manage our stock more efficiently and optimise internal processes thanks to digital.
“In the age of omnichannel, when the customer can order whenever and wherever he wants, having accurate knowledge of your stock is vital for retailers.”
How was the concept deployed?
In 2014, we asked ourselves what Tape à l’œil would be like in ten years. We sent our team to London, New York, San Francisco and Shanghai to find out about the best retail trends. We also conducted an “ethno-survey” by sending specialists to identify consumers’ habits, needs and expectations. That gave us a pretty comprehensive view of things. Then in July 2015, we came up with the idea of a phygital store that offers in-store shopping, a showroom and digital retail.
“we learn from our imperfections”
The project was developed in-house by a pool of eight experts from different departments: networks, logistics, digital and development. At the same time, we worked with some specialist providers. In less than a year –record time! – we opened Tao Connect,’ knowing full well that it wouldn’t be perfect, but that’s fine, because we learn from these imperfections every day. For example, we noticed that some customers don’t like using the touch-screen kiosks to order online: they like to go into a shop and leave with the product. So we stepped up our communication on showrooming and gradually we’re seeing how we can win people over to ordering online via the kiosks. We don’t just believe in things, we try them out!
What sort of feedback have you had from your customers and sales staff?
There’s a real wow factor. Customers are pleasantly surprised and like the fact that they can find so many products in a small shop. The concept is totally new to them.
We’ve decided to put more sales staff in the store than in our conventional shops. We really believe customers need guidance and help throughout the path-to-purchase to help them familiarise themselves with the concept, until they’re confident enough to use the tools by themselves.
“Our sales staff are project managers”
In terms of the sales staff we hired, we were looking for ultra-connected, digital-savvy people who can explain our concept to any customer.
Our team of six sales assistants are an integral part of the laboratory. They’re real project managers who work very closely with us and debrief us on a daily basis.
Our sales staff don’t feel they’ve been replaced by the tablets or kiosks. On the contrary, they’re very keen to show them to our customers. It’s a very personal, customer-focused approach and we hope it will be more widespread in the future.
Will you roll out the concept at your other stores?
We plan to use some of the components in our other stores and are also looking into the possibility of duplicating the whole concept to establish ourselves in retail spaces that we wouldn’t be able to access with our current model. We only opened four months ago so it’s too soon to measure the profitability of our investment. What we really want is to optimise the experience, particularly where RFID is concerned, which is central to Tape à l’œil because it generates substantial productivity gains. But innovations like touch-screen kiosks and showrooming have already been rolled out at a number of stores.
Visit the Tao Connect’ store Roncq, in the north of France at the Auchan shopping centre (Boulevard Halluin).
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