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The New Art of H2H – Really?

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We’ve all heard the saying, “What goes around comes around.” Good or bad, things have a tendency to come back into favor (like bell bottoms or old rock-n-roll). And now, in the business world, H2H is back. Really?

For quite a few years we’ve discussed B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer). All retail stores, of course, do B2C. But, shouldn’t retail always be H2H (human to human)? The fact is that the retail stores that haven’t figured this out over the years aren’t doing so well recently. Part of the reason for this is that “social networking” has become important again. It’s slightly different than it used to be, but social networking is causing human to human contact to become important again.

In the old days (when I was a youngster), social networking could only happen when H2H was occurring. I used to go down to the neighborhood small grocery and look for candy, pick up bread or milk for my mom, whatever we needed for the next few days. While I was there I would always end up talking with other local folks who were shopping or worked at the store. H2H. We’d talk about what we were buying, what was going on in our families or lives, school, all sorts of stuff.

During that time, my mother would always force me to go to the local bakery or meat house (the butcher’s). I didn’t talk to folks there as much so I was somewhat bored. But, my mom always talked to the butcher and his wife, as well as other customers. Trips like these were how the local community stayed in touch and up to date with what was going on with everyone.

Over the years malls sprang up along with “superstores” and department stores. Most of the small local stores (the neighborhood stores) went away. My mother and father didn’t really do much of the networking thing (H2H) when they went shopping anymore. However, teenagers began to find that the malls were a great place to meet up! They could all get together, shop, have something to eat, and just plain be together. Networking was still alive and well! The problem was that the H2H thing was slowly but surely going away in the stores. Superstores and the big department stores were doing everything they could to figure out how to make it easier for shoppers to find what they wanted to buy, with little assistance needed from store employees. The idea was to limit employee costs to the company, the second biggest expense most of those companies had (and still do).

That meant that in B2C retail, H2H was being eliminated as much as possible. It only makes sense to lower any expenses possible for a business. The problem was that it was taken to the point that retail was becoming a cold and boring way to have to spend a couple of hours. Most of the malls learned that folks would often come to shop in groups (friends, family, etc.). Those customers were trying to make it a fun event with interaction with other people. The malls learned this and found ways to capitalize on this by adding gather places in the mall (restaurants, comfortable seating areas and the like). Because of this, people of all ages would come in groups and make the outing an event. This actually increased sales in the mall stores. Many of the superstores tried this out, but didn’t have the same success, and the restaurant areas in these locations have either been dramatically shrunk or have just gone away.

For a short while we saw people doing more buying on the web. This will never go away. It’s here to stay. Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience. Sometimes it’s a matter of price. But online buying is going to be a part of the marketplace from now on. Brick and mortar stores were told by experts that they were going to see a lot of their business disappear to the web and they better figure out how to address that. However, in the last year or so it’s become apparent that brick and mortar is still important to a lot of folks. There are a lot of reasons for that. We can see the product, touch it, pay for the item and take it home now. In fact, it seems that more and more people are doing a lot of research on the web, then going to their favorite brick and mortar to buy the item.

There’s one more item that will continue to support the brick and mortar sales over future years, and the ones who get that right will succeed. The ones that don’t, not so much. That item is the H2H thing. Humans like to interact with other humans. We like to talk and eat with friends and family. We enjoy almost everything we do more when we interact with other people, and this even includes store employees! We want folks in the store to point us in the right direction, answer questions we may have, and check in the back room if the store has had a run on something and the product isn’t on the shelf. Most shoppers will even say, “Hi”, or at least nod at store employees as they walk past. And many shoppers will continue to make shopping an event, with friends and relatives.

The human animal is a very social animal. We just like interacting with each other in most situations. The retail industry is starting to realize this (again). We’re starting to see H2H, networking, and just plain social interaction come back into retail. It all comes back to the issue already delved into as part of one of my previous articles. Retail is all about customer experience, and the biggest piece of that is H2H interaction. Make good H2H a big part of your “customer experience” in your store, and you have a great chance that your customers will feel good about the experience. Maybe they’ll come back!

H2H is back. Make it work for you in your store!

Retail How-To Consultant: Edward Fox

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers, omni-channel,
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