The Customer Experience Podcast | How WHSmith Led Digitalisation in the Retail Industry

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Welcome to the Customer Experience Podcast with S&S Chief CX Officer and host Emma Dark.

As leaders, how do we successfully approach digitisation in the retail industry? In this episode, Emma has a chat with Heidi Reynolds, Retail Director at WHSmith – one of the oldest retailers in history established over 200 years ago. This is a true heritage brand and while its core values have remained, the organisation has had to continually evolve and transform their customer experiences over two centuries.

So how has WHSmith embraced the shifting sands of digitisation? How do they pair physical and digital experiences? What about under the hood, internally with their people – how do they bring them on the digital journey?

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A fascinating discussion that is valuable for anyone in the retail space, learning from one of the biggest and best.



Introduction – 0:54

  • How their leaders approach digitalisation in the retail industry
  • Meet Retail Director Heidi Reynolds, she talks about her experience in retail and the movement to digitisation.

How to reinvent the store of the future – 3:50 

  • Will there always be a place for the high street?
  • Know your customers and who’s not your customers

The essential component to truly understand your customer – 4:50

  • How to use as many methods as possible to reach out to all types of customers
  • The critical aspect of making assumptions of who your customers are based on their purchase – you might miss out on their actual needs
  • Work out what it is you are seeking to understand in order to meet customer needs

The partnership between physical and digital – 8:20

  • How to have a customer perspective  to understand if you are meeting their needs
  • Understand your customers’ shopping habits
  • How to adapt to support your customer 
  • Meet the needs of a customer experience online

How can you bring your ‘in-store staff’ on the digital journey? – 11:15 

  • Supporting and encouraging people to take these steps is difficult and change can lead to retention issues
  • How to offer support to less digitally able colleagues to make them feel comfortable
  • Be transparent and open about why it is important to go on this journey
  • Ensure that people feel confident and safe in their abilities and the support systems around them to go forward with the change together

What are the biggest change skills needed? – 16:36 

  • How to communicate and understand where the support is needed
  • Understand that customers are going on this journey with you
  • Be prepared for the physical and technical development of moving online

What is the purpose of a physical store when everything is moving online? 19:50

  • In-store colleagues need to keep the relationship with the customer
  • Conversations need to focus on more alternatives for the customer and can offer insight into their needs
  • Fewer people in-store isn’t always a good thing, it can compromise the customer experience
  • Customers are more likely to go into the store to ask questions when they can’t find the answers online
  • Cultivating a culture of caring for the customer is important 

How to take the customers along with you on the changes – 21:55

  • All organisations will have to adapt according to their customer base
  • How to understand customer engagement in-store VS online 
  • How to understand the role of your marketing and how it direct customers to the products

How have your teams set themselves up to manage different customers? – 31:35

  • Understand how to appeal to customers of all ages
  • Don’t overcomplicate your offer
  • Connect with all your customers – IKEA caters for young families with food and play areas 

How retailers can ‘get it right’ – 35:35

  • Inspiration, innovation and value
  • Managing expectations 
  • Do what you say; the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’

What obstacles have you had to face? – 37:50

  • How to stay relevant and live harmoniously between High Street stores and online
  • How to keep a presence in the highstreets space and increase sales
  • How to navigate a world of continuous change
  • How to encourage people to visit both the physical and online store

 How has change changed? – 39:45

  • With every year the speed of change increases
  • Direction for retail is moving so rapidly that some businesses won’t be able to keep up 
  • Continuously asking for feedback 

What are predictions for the next 5 years? – 41:55

  • The speed at which people get their products will increase in speed
  • Both immersive experiences and  in-store products will become more popular

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