Retailers who personalize the shopping experience have a better chance of building a meaningful relationship with consumers. With a focus on localized customer engagement strategies, leading retailers such as Guitar Center are paving the way for merchants seeking a similar, localized approach.
During the NRF convention this week, Guitar Center’s EVP of Multichannel Operations, Stephen Zapf, shared the importance of investing in cross-channel retail capabilities such as ship to store, in-store pickup and store returns. These strategies help Guitar Center face the challenges from “pure play” web retailers like Amazon who leverage a low cost distribution model to compete successfully on price. With more than 4,000 store associates and 220 entrepreneurial store managers, creating a personalized in-store experience has been the company’s strong point.
“We saw [online] competitors growing and taking our shares; our margins were getting squeezed and we weren’t happy with our growth numbers,” said Zapf. “We needed to differentiate ourselves from the competition and dive into what was unique about our franchises, distribution assortments and overall offering.”
To distinguish itself, Guitar Center developed Stores for Stores, an initiative that unites customers with store associates based on interest, expertise and location. The strategy adapts a Microsite platform approach for each store, allowing Guitar Center to leverage online competition as well as connect with consumers on a personal level.
The Guitar Center Microsite platform helps online shoppers locate items by offering consumers the ability to search the web sites of its own neighboring stores. Each Guitar Center store web site features headshots of store associates who have passed a certain level of training. It also highlights store managers with expertise in selected items such as amplifiers, guitars and microphones.
“We have thousands of associate and manager profiles with specific information that is highly relevant to customers in local markets,” said Zapf. “The content is very different from what our competitors are doing and unlike anything on our own corporate web site.”
Like Facebook, the platform is designed to showcase user-generated videos and photos with store products. Store managers are encouraged to post on the web site blog to share in-store items unique to a given location.
The Microsite platform approach allows for high quality of SEO content,” reported Zapf. “We didn’t build it for SEO specifically but we’re finding the benefits.”
In addition, Guitar Center built an associate-facing portal that helps extend assortment by offering regional store managers better insight to inventory.