What is High Touch Retail?

High touch retail means taking a proactive, personal, and targeted approach to customer service. It's the opposite of a no-frills, no service approach. Instead, retailers anticipate the questions or problems a customer will come across and solve them before they arise. It's important because customers who have a genuine human relationship with a brand tend to buy more, come back more often, and stay loyal for longer. 

So how can end-to-end fantastic customer service improve a business? As you probably know from your own retail experiences, when you encounter brilliant service from a business you're happy to come back time and time again, which makes you a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is a highly desirable customer. In a world where it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, it makes sense to focus on customer retention and loyalty.

If you can do a good enough job to create advocates for your business, people who will happily tell everyone they know about how fantastic you are, you've achieved the ultimate in loyalty. It can be worth a fortune to your business, increasing your profitability because word of mouth recommendations bring more customers your way, and happy customers tend to spend more. It also makes your employees feel happy. Because happy people work smarter and better, it feeds into the equation to create a very high level of customer satisfaction, creating a sort of virtuous circle. All this gives you a valuable advantage over competitors.

How does High Touch Retail Differ to Low Touch?

A piece of work by Retail Systems Research explored the tricky trade-off many retailers face between managing costs and providing customer service. On the one hand, consumers appreciate good customer service, on the other hand, you need to make a profit. Low touch retail is the opposite of high touch. It's more about 'pile them high and sell them cheap', involving fast turnover with minimal customer involvement rather than making an effort to delight buyers, often a matter of low revenue and self-service.

Low touch operations include Ikea, the highly successful homewares retailer is a great example of where the customer does almost all of the work themselves, using the stores' unique room-by-room layouts to help them decide what to buy before picking up their goods from the warehouse part of the store. It's entirely possible to spend a day shopping at Ikea without talking to anyone except the person on the till. Other low touch retailers go without a Customer Relationship Management system, don't bother trying to generate customer loyalty, don't collect customer data, or provide limited or no after-sales support.

4 Aspects of High Touch Retail

The high touch business model demands above average interactions with customers. With low touch any interaction is minimal, often simply transactional. Most of the time high touch retail is a people thing, involving a lot more real human interaction. You might, as a customer, spend an hour or several sessions with a salesperson going through the benefits of the product you're considering. When you call the business you speak to a real person who can solve your problems and answer your questions. Behind the scenes, there are complex systems designed to capture your data, analyse your experience, pin down your needs and desires, and help make sales magic happen.

So what things can a business do, on a high touch basis, to ensure the business sits at the front of the customer's mind, and how can they be implemented?

Understand the behaviour of customers

In order to provide a top-class high touch service you need to understand the customer, and that means data. Investing in the relevant software systems and hardware that lets you collect consumer data means you quickly build up an impressively detailed picture of people's wants, needs and likes, expectations, spending habits, buying preferences, average spend, and a great deal more. Installing a good POS system lets you do all this with ease, collecting and analysing data on entire customer segments as well as individuals, for example, high-value customers.

Leverage loyalty data

Customer loyalty is one of the most important goals of every retail business. A loyal customer comes back time and time again because they have enjoyed the whole buying experience, are happy with every aspect of the way they're treated, have had their questions answered and their worries put to rest, treated as an important individual. This is another task where data is essential, letting you spot patterns you'd never notice without a system designed to collect and analyse customer data.

Simplify the ordering process

Putting your consumer head-on, it's obvious that faster, smoother and simpler ordering works wonders. There's nothing worse than a long, drawn-out buying experience where every step feels like pulling teeth. Order management software works hard to streamline the ordering and fulfilment process, keeping costs down while letting you centralise vital data. Intelligent actions like using standard order forms, confirming orders with customers and keeping customers informed makes a huge positive difference to the overall buying experience.

Offer a range of fulfilment and payment options

Fulfilment is simply the process of getting products from a warehouse to a customer. It covers picking, packing, shipping and delivery, and providing a range of choices puts you above competing businesses that don't. In-store collections, click-and-collect, courier delivery, delivery by mail or an independent delivery company, even delivery via your own fleet, it all adds up to a great choice - and choice makes customers happy.

Simple things like payment options matter, too. When a customer likes to pay via PayPal but you don't offer PayPal payment, you disappoint. When you provide a good choice of popular payment options, you please more people.

How Businesses can Benefit from High Touch Retail

The key benefits of incorporating high touch processes into their business are clear. In the case of retail, knowledge really is power. Understanding exactly how customers are experiencing your stores and products means you can make intelligent, informed decisions about everything from what to sell to how to price products. It helps you decide how to design the perfect customer journey within a retail premise, and how to layout a retail website so it captures the most attention and achieves the best sales conversion rates.

Spot consumer trends

When you spot a trend early, you're onto a winner. A high touch approach lets you do exactly that, for example analysing the invaluable customer data you've collected via your POS system to pin down the next big thing, get your supply chain ducks in a row before anyone else, and react faster than your competitors. This in turn makes you even more popular with the customers who appreciate a high touch experience.

Empower salespeople with data

Collecting and analysing data in a high touch environment means your sales people are empowered with the kind of data that really matters, data that genuinely supports effective sales. It makes such a difference when you have the relevant data needed to understand a consumer or consumer segment well enough to sell with ease and flair, tapping directly into what the data tells you to delight people, fulfil and even exceed their expectations. All this drives customer loyalty and increases average spend.

Help brand ambassadors push advantageous product lines

Your brand ambassadors can't push popular product lines unless they know which products are the most popular. A high touch approach provides the insight you need to understand the products people appreciate most and love best, offer more of the same, up-sell and cross-sell with confidence, and even create new demand for associated products.

While a high touch approach to retail isn't low cost, the benefits to business are impressive. When you make a wise initial investment in the systems you need to make it happen, collecting the right data, analysing it intelligently, and making plans based on real-life statistics you can trust, before long your initial investment will have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. If you'd like to delight your customers with high touch retail, let's talk about how our IT systems will help make it happen.