Putting Yourself in the Customers Shoes | Interview with Britta Hall
With around 25 years of retail experience, Britta Hall has worked for brands such as Nike and O’Neill. She is now the Global Retail Experience Manager for Hunkemöller – an international lingerie brand from the Netherlands.
MiND had the opportunity to speak with Britta about her experience and her design vision for the Hunkemöller stores.
Can you walk us through your background?
I started in retail around 25 years ago in Germany. I went to a college for retail management and then started working in a small department store in the city where I grew up, which is where I was introduced to visual merchandising for the first time. Back then, there wasn’t really any education for visual merchandising, so I rolled into it through working and being hands on. My background was all the number parts of it, but I soon fell in love with visual merchandising and things that were more product design and presentation oriented. I worked there for a while and then moved to Berlin and started working for Nike. That was really my first step in the career, and of course, Nike is a great school to learn about retail design and visual merchandising.
How is Hunkemöller different from your previous experiences?
Working for Hunkemöller is very different from Nike, because Nike is a big corporate company where I worked in the retail sector, but within a wholesale company. When I came to Hunkemöller, it was all about retail and the stores – there were so many possibilities to try out new things. Everything moves very quickly, the pace of the changes that are happening is great because it goes directly from product design, to marketing, into the stores. You see the results of your work right away – that to me is very rewarding. I like the sports sector but I prefer the femininity of the Hunkemöller product, which is a great fit for me.
Can you explain your role as Global Retail Experience Manager?
When I started, the role was called “Retail Marketing and Visual Merchandising Manager”. A couple of years ago, it evolved into the retail experience, because nowadays visual merchandising goes so much further, including the scent, the music, digital experiences and innovation – everything. You have to think about the customer journey from outside of the store, to the changing room, back to the cash desk, etc.
What experience do you wish customers to have when they enter a Hunkemöller store?
It’s about surprising them when they come in, with something new or something unexpected, so that they get inspired to look at the products, try them on and of course purchase them. Next to that, if they’re coming for something specific, to also help them find what they’re looking for easily by how the store is set up and how the merchandising is displayed. So it’s important to combine these two sides together and use the visual merchandising – I always like to say it’s the silent sales person – to really make sure this is lifted in the stores.
Technology is extremely important in today’s store design. Can you explain Omni-channel and other ways Hunkemöller incorporates technology for a good store experience?
Omni-channel is very important for Hunkemöller and our stores, and the marketing department works very closely with the omni-channel department. We already have the options to order in stores, employees can order anything from a different store or online, they can do click and collect or reserve. So there are many ways that customers can get the products delivered to their home or to another store. We’re also trialing the use of tablets, so the employees can walk around with them. There are many things that we’re busy with to try to see what the next steps are and how we need to evolve.
“We are always thinking about what makes sense for the customer and what can improve their experience.”
We always use our flagship stores as a test for new concepts. For example, we created a ‘social wall’, which is a touch screen where user generated content from our fans is shown from Instagram. When they post something with a hashtag relating to Hunkemöller, the system asks if they are happy for the post to be shared online and in store. If a customer clicks on it, they also see the product page online, with a better picture of the product, the price and the name. It’s really trying to bring our fans who are wearing the products into the stores. We don’t just show the models wearing the products, but also real-life people and fans of Hunkemöller.
In the flagship store in Amsterdam, we also integrated a selfie camera into that ‘social wall’ so that people can take a selfie, which then goes onto the wall. Just as a fun interaction tool to try to make them laugh and have fun in the store. For us it’s really the combination of doing the things that are necessary to fill the demands of the customer, and on the other hand going back to something that surprises them, that they didn’t expect.
All of these concepts were trialed in the flagship store, but there is also an experience changing room, which we are which we rolling out to more stores beyond the flagships. It’s a special changing room that’s a bit bigger than the others and it also has a touch screen where the customer can pick from four moods: casual, swim, sport or seductive. And then the music changes, and the lighting – the mirror has light around it, and the images on the screen change, so they can play around with this, have fun and see different products that match with the mood.
How do you see the future of store design evolving?
It’s important to realize what the customers are looking for when they go shopping. Now it seems that it’s all about having more – more screens, more things happening, etc. But there’s already so much out there for the customers that they get bombarded with it all. We have to consider that we are doing too much sometimes, that it can overwhelm the customer. We have to think whether it should be a bit quieter sometimes and a bit less ‘wow!’. Especially with online shopping trends, there’s a lot of competition in terms of store experience. When customers can shop online, what can the store add to the experience? It’s definitely the personal contact of going into a store that makes the difference.
Can you explain the Fit, Vital & Happy Committee?
I have also been a yoga teacher for 10 years, and I did a lot of other courses, such as a stress counselor and a nutrition coach. I have a big interest in keeping a healthy work/life balance, and I try to share that with others. A couple of years ago I started giving yoga classes to my colleagues within the marketing department, and they liked it so much that they asked if we could do more. The idea of the “Fit, Vital & Happy program” just came up in my mind, I went to my manager and to HR and with their support, we set up the program. With all the social requirements and workloads, it’s becoming more and more important for people to relax or learn about nutrition and stress relief. It combines my passion with my job, so it’s very rewarding.
What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?
It’s important to find that work-life balance and to make time for yourself – to really shut off your phone and laptop, and set aside an hour for yourself. To really build that resilience, because otherwise you get lost out there. That’s what I’ve learned, and it works well. I can keep going, but I also know when it’s time to stop. I try to share that with my younger colleagues, to try to encourage them to find a hobby outside of work, to keep that balance.
“Don’t get lost behind your desk and your computer”
Workwise, I learned that it’s always important to remember what we’re doing our work for. In my case, it’s to always put yourself in the customer’s shoes, go out to see what’s happening, see how the customers react and interact with the product and the stores.