5 reasons why retailers should look to H&M for customer experience tips

Remember what H&M used to look like?

A few years back, a trip to H&M involved having to be in the right mindset.

It was a case of shopping but being prepared for the hassle, effort and stress it would involve. To navigate stores you needed sharpened elbows, while finding a product in your size was no easy feat. Stores were often ram packed like a warehouse with garments littering the floor. Having once been a H&M manager I remember clever customers asking for 10% off garments they brought to the till covered in detritus.

But H&M have now turned a corner and a revolution started many years ago is bearing fruit.

A visit to my local store in Annecy was a very different experience. The store was well-lit with strong visual merchandising, navigation and a sense of order. It was a calm experience where I didn’t need to elbow my way through crowds or use a crowbar to retrieve a jumper from a rail.

So how did H&M get it right and what can other retailers learn from them?

1. Zero tolerance on ‘garment litter’

Many stores stuffer from this and it’s especially pronounced during sale periods when stores are packed. Yet, H&M doesn’t have the same issue. They encourage staff to tidy while moving about the store and design displays that are easy to manage and maintain. By staying on top of things they reduce the likelihood of products being strewn about the floor.

2. Effortless display

H&M also adopt the ‘hanger test’ whereby products are hung on rails with enough room for customers to review, retrieve and replace an item. Gone are the days of having warehouse volumes shoved onto tiny rails. Visiting a H&M you’ll also notice their move away from tower like clothing displays. Gone are the jumpers packed 12 storeys high. Customers find it easier to remove a product without it falling all over the floor. It’s amazing to watch customers elsewhere, who on seeing a clothing tower just walk away.

3. Improved supply chain management

I remember working at H&M when the morning delivery lorry would turn up. We’d all run out and unpack crates to see what the latest ‘Divided Blue’ trend was. Like all young staff we hid our favourite items behind the counter thus saving them from ravenous shoppers until pay day. The amazing thing about the deliveries was the sheer volume. You knew there was some method in the madness as high selling items were replaced quickly. At other times, stock would arrive that was failing to sell on the shop floor. But times have changed and H&M stores are no longer a warehouse replicas. Stock is shipped in quantities that stores can handle and showcase as customers expect. H&M have understood the retail principle of less is more.

4. Putting sale in its place

Sales are important for any retailer. It encourages footfall and is a way of ridding themselves of unwanted stock. The issue for many retailers is in how they handle and manage their sales. At H&M, sales no longer cover the entire range and shop floor. They begin at the front of the store and migrate towards the back as the sale progresses. H&M are aware that frequent and loyal shoppers want to see new products and not the same sale items week after week. H&M are also great at managing sale volumes. Garments are price, size and colour blocked. This brings warehouse efficiency in store with customers able to find products quickly. The sale is also contained with staff doing their best to separate sale and full price lines.

5. The power of consistency

Consistency in retail is not easy but H&M have mastered it. While carrying different ranges or sub-brands, H&M’s customer experience is consistent. They’re consistent on display, visual merchandising as well as navigation, customer engagement and organisation. By walking into the store in Annecy I was immediately able to find the trusted grey marl hoodies I love so much. Consistency, as both H&M and Starbucks have proved is next to godliness. Customers enduring different experiences on each shopping trip soon become weary. They want consistency and reliability. It’s important for retailers to realise that many of their customers are frequency visitors who also visit other nearby stores within their footprint.

So 10 out of 10 for H&M?

Not quite. There’s still room for improvement.

H&M need to work on selling a lifestyle. Stores are often tidy, clean and easy to navigate but they lack personality and a lifestyle edge. Customers are looking for looks yes, but they’re also looking for cues on how to live their entire life. It’s this opportunity that the likes of H&M are missing out on.

There’s much more H&M could be doing with regard to people to people selling and digital. The former is the most important element of retail. People buy from people. A customer struggling to find the right cut or fit of jeans needs help and advice. There’s plenty of opportunity here for H&M to improve how it uses staff to engage with and sell to customers.

From a digital perspective H&M have a lot to do. Having a website is essential yes, but digital needs to come instore to have its biggest impact. Many brands have experimented with digital TV displays showing adverts or Instagram posts. Some have toyed with digital mirrors and stock checking kiosks. The digital possibilities are endless but execution should be customer not retailer focused.

iBeacon is clever but not all customers want to be hassled or welcomed as they arrive. Customers want to find inspiration, locate products quickly and pay with ease. It is these principles that should be driving digital innovation at H&M.

And finally there’s my favourite ‘hanger test’. Stores should not be warehouses and at times H&M can lapse into its former self. You’ll regularly see me hovering around H&M, no doubt followed by security as I conduct the ‘hanger test’. It seems like such a small thing. But customers being unable to retrieve a product from a ram packed rail is just lazy retailing.

For all you retailers out there, start with the ‘hanger test’.

Good luck

To learn more about customer experience in retail and how Strategy Activist can help you stay ahead of competitors get in touch. www.strategyactivist.com