The coronavirus pandemic could see retailers moving quicker towards providing customers with shopping ‘experiences’ rather than simply a store to buy products.

Photo of Matt Doyle

Marketing and advertising expert, Matt Doyle, has witnessed an increasing number of businesses adapting to offer added value experiences – and believes the pandemic could quicken that trend even further.

Matt, who is CEO of data gathering solution, Array, says with more people buying online than ever, the customer experience has become more important. And when countries ease themselves out of lockdown and shops start to reopen, he thinks businesses will rethink the way they interact with customers.

“A lot more stores are experiential. People can look and play with something in one store - then go away and buy it elsewhere. That’s the way retail is going, and now we might see a quicker shift.

“It’s still important for people to see it, touch it, feel it. But they don’t have to buy it. That’s why Apple stores are the way they are, and why Microsoft have their own stores now. And why telecom companies like EE moved away from Carphone Warehouse.

“A great example is coffee brand, Grind, in London. They started out with a recording studio upstairs with a coffee shop downstairs. Now they’re more of an experience. They’ve expanded and have bars, restaurants and all sorts.

“But you have to bear in mind that people have different buying personas. I hate buying clothes online because I want to try things on, and I can’t be bothered with returning items that don’t fit. But other people love it, and hate buying in shops.”

Matt founded Array under the previous brand, Launchcloud, and was supported by a £500 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp. He’s worked with Virgin StartUp ever since, progressing from an ambassador to mentor, and now to one of the experts delivering webinars to the next set of founders.

He is full of praise for fellow Virgin StartUp-supported business, ChargedUp, which has successfully pivoted during the coronavirus pandemic. Normally trading in bars and restaurants, helping customers charge up their mobile phones, the company moved quickly and adapted to manufacture and install hand sanitising stations across the London Underground and beyond - as CleanedUp.

Matt says the pandemic will have a lasting impact on businesses large and small, adding: “I work in a WeWork office and it’s like a ghost town. It’s usually buzzing, full of entrepreneurs and their teams, but there’s hardly anyone here. Obviously, a lot of people could be working from home, but it’s quite scary.

“Business has been tough for a lot of people. I know a lot of recruitment has been postponed or even cancelled and a lot of people have been laid off.

“Certain ecosystems within business have been decimated. People don’t necessarily see the areas affected and I think the full effects are yet to be seen.

“Some businesses, like ours, have been able to work through. Our technology is adapted to fit the needs of our customers. But some will adapt in a new way. In the US, most restaurants have had the ability to do takeaways for a long time. Deliveroo has changed some of that thinking in the UK recently, but the pandemic has led to businesses being a bit more creative.

“The danger is that, as a result of these changes, satisfaction and customer service drops. You have seen it with banks. Their opening hours were crappy anyway, and they’ve closed down lots of branches. The danger is that people will use this as an excuse to close down further.”

Matt believes businesses should focus on a simple marketing strategy of ‘awareness, see, try and buy’.

He said: “Make sure you are focusing the customer journey over these steps. Ask yourself: ‘what is the customer’s experience along this process?’

“’Awareness’ is all about knowing your audience; ‘see’ is about getting them to learn more about your product or message. Every business – from dog treats to technology – should have some kind of ‘try’ experience for customers, before they buy. You need all of these things to work well, though. It is important every business has some kind of trial for 14 days, tats tests or a free report - but you need it to help get more customers to go and buy from you.

“The gap between the early adopters and the early majority is closing, as more are willing to take a chance on a new way of doing something. The early majority are pragmatic, so normally need more social proof, but this has somewhat been reduced due to rapid change.”

Matt will be one of the speakers at our Is now a good time to start a business? online MeetUp in June. Grab your free tickets today.