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Could you run your supermarket more like a hotel?

May 27, 2013 Business Daily, Strategy

“Waitrose is to introduce hotel-style welcome desks into its stores in the latest stage of plans to expand its online business.
The upmarket retailer, led by managing director Mark Price, plans to install the “concierge” service desks in order to allow customers to make online orders, collect products bought over the internet, and have their flowers and gifts wrapped.
Mr Price said the welcome desks are a response to “changing shopping habits as our supermarkets are increasingly used as a destination to collect online orders”.”

The Telegraph (17 May, 2013)

Once upon a time, businesses had distinctive features. They all ran themselves in a certain way, and they stuck to that way. They used tried-and-tested procedures and methods, and they didn’t change them. All the businesses in a particular industry did things the same way, unquestioningly. And businesses in one industry certainly DID NOT look for tips from any other industry.

In this world, banks were banks; shops were shops; hotels were hotels. Every industry was what it was.

This world still exists for most of us. So what do you make of the news shown in the excerpt, that Britain’s leading upscale supermarket chain, Waitrose, plans to introduce hotel-style welcome desks? You should be paying a lot of attention.

Waitrose has done nothing more than react to a sea-change in how its customers shop these days. Many of them don’t arrive in supermarkets ready to push a trolley through miles of aisles, picking products off shelves. And most do not want to queue up behind dozens of others buyers to pay for their shopping.

Now, an increasing number of busy young shoppers in mature economies are doing the “shopping” bit online. They don’t even want to come in person to the supermarket, except when absolutely necessary. When they do come, it’s probably to pick up their pre-ordered goods (to avoid a delivery charge) or to enjoy an added-value service like shopping advice or gift-wrapping.

A hotel-style reception desk, then, becomes a no-brainer. Which makes you wonder why it’s taken this long for anyone to think of it.

Now let’s move to hotels themselves. Do they need to do everything at their lobby desks? Not at all. I encountered this some years ago when I arrived in the middle of the night at an upscale hotel, cranky after a delayed flight and with sleepy child in tow. I steeled myself for the invariably tedious check-in and form-filling at the reception desk.

To my surprise, my family was received by a hostess right out of our vehicle, whisked straight to the bedroom, and told that the check-in formalities could be handled in the morning when we were better rested. A couple of days later, we were checked out in the same way – right in our room, by a hostess armed with portable technology. The venerable reception desk was there in the lobby – but we almost never needed to use it. And since that experience I’ve found many hotels migrating interactions away from central areas, with staff carrying tablet computers and dealing with guests wherever they encounter them.

We too often do things a certain way because they’ve always been done a certain way. As technology changes and makes new methods of interacting with our customers not only possible but inevitable, we would do well to think afresh.

Why should bank customers line up like cattle in winding queues? Why should government offices be manned by demotivated humans in dull clerical jobs? The sharper leaders are seeing that new portable technology allows so many customer experiences to be changed forever. The rest are stuck in unimaginative business as usual. Guess which ones will be rewarded by tomorrow’s customer?

It’s time to sit down and re-imagine how you do things.

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