Last month travel agent Thomson opened a new ‘Holiday Design Store’ at Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. The new commercial shop design is an experimental approach which Thomson hope will ‘modernise the customer experience’ of holiday retail.
The new store features a mixture of interactive facilities combined with helpful customer service representatives to inspire potential customers during their decision making process. The traditional racks of brochures have been replaced with an immersive, interactive experience, split into zones which have been specifically designed to engage different types of customer – e.g. those who like adventure holidays, those who like all-inclusive beach holidays, etc.
Visitors to the shop are greeted by a huge ‘immersive’ video wall at the entrance to the store. The screens will display films of the various destinations on offer and enticing information such as holiday weather reports to encourage customers to come inside and start planning their trip. Upon entering the store, customers are greeted with warm lighting and the smell of coconut sun cream to evoke an ambient holiday mood and encourage them to browse further.
Just inside the store on the wall an interactive touch-screen map invites customers to explore destinations and reveals increasing amounts of detail as they zoom in to each location to look at available hotels, local tourist information or transfer times. For customers who are interested in cruise ship holidays the screen shows available routes and plays videos of the scenery en route. They can also browse reviews from the TripAdvisor website to help inform their choices. In addition to the screen, customers can access the same content via an interactive table positioned nearby. As the users of these two interactive tools find interesting pieces of information they can then use a feature to email the info to themselves to browse at home if they need more time to think about it.
Customer Travel Zones
The rest of the store is divided into ‘zones’, themed around different types of holiday. A playful poolside style lounge area incorporates a floor with turquoise mosaic tiles to make it look like a swimming pool, complete with seats which are shaped to look like inflatable lilos, floating in the virtual pool. Here another screen offers more enticing information including the weather reports in sunnier climes, Twitter feeds and quizzes, all intended as part of Thomson’s new immersive approach which is designed to engage ‘without giving the hard sell.’
Customers can chat to staff in a zone that looks like a beach bar or sit down and discuss their holiday choices in one of the stores’ purpose built booths featuring comfortable leather upholstery and more large video screens showing inspirational information. Staff members can pull up images onto the larger screen whilst discussing options with customers to help them visualise their destination and design their perfect holiday with Thomson.
Behind the bar a traditional display of paper brochures is available but they have been sidelined as the holiday retailer aims to push their new interactive approach. They are placed behind the bar so that a customer can only receive them on request and they are being offered in a more passive way.
A foreign currency exchange is tucked away at the back of the store (yet clearly visible from outside) and has been redesigned to remove the traditional style obtrusive glass screens as part of Thomson’s new commitment to what it describes as a ‘seamless engagement’.
Designing for Multichannel Retail
The reasons for this new approach are clear as Kathryn Ward, director of retail for Thomson describes how customers are now more than ever ‘demanding an experience rather than a transaction’.
Ward goes on to insist that the new customer experience design ‘is not about gimmicks – we’ve stayed away from iPads’ and that ‘the technology has instead been incorporated into the experience’.
As previously reported on this blog, the rise of multichannel retailing is continuing to be acknowledged by the high street and Thomson are no exception – Multichannel has been placed high on the agenda at the new store. Staff are actively encouraged to talk to customers about services such as a Thomson app where they can select flight seats, and will also soon be able to check in.
‘We can work the different channels in harmony with the customer,’ says Ward- acknowledging that many customers who come into the store will be at different points in their journey, having possibly already looked online.
If this new commercial shop design approach proves successful, Thomson expects to roll out the design to 100 of it’s 700 stores over the next two to three years. The modular nature of the concept store means that different elements, such as the interactive map or the different themed zones, can be trialled depending on their success and the location and demands of each individual store.
Just writing about this has got us in the holiday mood so if you go down to Bluewater to check out Thomson’s new immersive experience do let us know how you got on and whether the persuasive technology swayed your destination choice at all….