Are premium experiences worth the wait?

Paying a premium?

As I navigated my way through the streets of Hong Kong recently, I experienced a phenomenon that I have not encountered for many years – queuing outside – to get inside – a store. On three occasions, outside the stores of Coach, Prada and Burberry, I was politely asked to form a line outside with other shoppers.

Dutifully (I am British you know), I agreed to the request. I had experienced this before in the high energy, aftershave fuelled stores of Abercrombie & Fitch in Singapore and, rather bizarrely, Hollister in Norwich. Back then I was left dazzled at the process within these premium role model retailers, where the queue was all about building ‘buzz’ and a sense of anticipation, amongst the brand’s avid shoppers and passers-by alike. But here, perhaps through a sense of cultural naiveté, I thought that it was about too many people instore potentially causing a health, safety or security concern. So imagine my surprise, when after eventually being allowed into the ‘hallowed halls’ of Coach, I found myself amongst only five other shoppers.

Upon quizzing store staff about this practice, I was told that the purpose was to give a one-to-one service and premium experience for customers. That much I can understand and identify with – who wouldn’t? However, standing in a line of other people waiting to get in, in hideous wet weather, couldn’t possibly be seen as anything but highly frustrating and inconvenient.

Of course shopping at the designer level means experiencing a sense of exclusivity – I get that. But, is this really a price worth paying for if the brand is so mobbed.

I think a more customer-focused solution should be found and needs to be adopted as part of the store design solution, if this is an ongoing need. Why no interactive lobby or an anteroom or waiting area, or some form of ‘holding pattern’ experience instead? Especially at peak footfall times, rather than keeping people on the streets.

Could such a practice work in a UK store of Burberry or Coach? Definitely not! British shoppers understand that they have choices, and they would happily vote with their feet – made even easier if those feet were waiting outside the store at the time.

In the emerging Asian markets, perhaps this new protocol is seen as a way of adding a level of luxury before you get in. In truth, in order to satisfy lots of people and give great service, the experience should start on the outside of the store by, literally, bringing passing shoppers in.

For me, my time in Hong Kong proved that not everything that designer brands do, they get right. Sometimes, their brand teams need to, as we say, “Think Like a Customer” a little more if they truly want to deliver an exceptional customer experience and, most importantly, get shoppers in the right state of mind to shop.

Click here to see our review of Victoria Beckham’s latest flagship store in Hong Kong

By Karl McKeever

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