The is the second section of our three part series on Hointer. You can read Part 1 and our introduction to Hointer here.
Technology can be exciting and create a lot of buzz, but ultimately innovation in retail only has a lasting impact if it improves the customer experience. Before diving into the operations of the Hointer system, its best to ask is “Is this right for the customer?”
There are essentially two kinds of customers: those that know what they are looking for, and those that don’t. Each has entirely different needs and expectations, therefore the perspective of both types of customer needs to be considered.
The Mission Customer
First, let’s look at the customers that know what they are looking for, or the “mission” customers. A “mission” customer values intuitive shopping, speed, and convenience. “Help me accomplish my goal as quickly and easily as possible” is their mantra. They want to find the options of the particular category they are seeking (e.g. a particular brand of jeans), grab their sizes, try them on, and buy them with little hassle. At Hointer, finding their jeans of choice is easier than at traditional retailers because each style is clearly on display and there isn’t the clutter of all the size options on the floor. Finding their size is literally just the click of a button on their phone, and self-checkout means no waiting in line. Hointer appears to hit the mark for the “mission” customer.
The Experiential Customer
Now let’s look at customers that don’t know what they are looking for, or “experiential” customers. An “experiential” customer values inspirational displays, atmosphere, and customer service. Initially critics commented that the Hointer experience is too hands-off, and that these types of shoppers, the “experiential” shoppers, go into a retail store to receive help from a sales person, not a robot. However, in actuality, the automated inventory system doesn’t preclude a sales person from being on the floor, and the Hointer concept store has sales staff just like any other store. In fact, one could argue, that the Hointer system better enables selling on the floor because the sales staff doesn’t waste time hunting down inventory. The showroom style that clearly displays each style, rather than jamming multiple styles on a single rack like traditional retailers, enables “experiential” customers to easily browse the selection. And the open-air, uncluttered design of the store gives it a modern, elevated experience. So although it is not as explicit, the Hointer store does help the “experiential” customer as long as they know they are looking for men’s denim jeans.
However, the Hointer experience is not without challenges. The system is dependent on customers actively using technology while shopping, and this can be intimidating, confusing, or simply unwanted. There is only one way to shop at Hointer, and if you do not use their app, you cannot get your item to purchase. We have seen retailers like IKEA put in self-checkout lanes, only to pull them out because of inefficiency. The real challenge is asking customers to fundamentally change how they shop. They no longer have to search for sizes, dig through racks, or carrying items to try on around the store. But they are expected to use a mobile devices, figure out how to use a software application, and potentially give up their anonymity by connecting their shopping activity with the purchase, each click being stored in a database.
In the end, technology is changing how we live in all areas of life, not just retail, and customers tend to hop on board with innovations that make their life easier, even if it means giving up some of their privacy. Whether it is the “mission” or “experiential” customer, the Hointer system of bringing online convenience to the brick-n-mortar store appears to create an elevated shopping experience.
Continue reading to Part 3 of our series where we explore the operational impact of Hointer here.
Aura Cook is a Senior Consultant with Lenati. She has over 10 years of experience in multi-channel Retail specializing in strategy development, consumer insights, market research, merchandising, and business intelligence.
Loren Bors is a Senior Consultant with Lenati. He has previously written for the Lenati blog about his retail experience with the Trunk Club.