The daily news cycle loves to report doom and gloom for the retail sector. Case in point this week is Roger David, closing after 76 years, from a store count that used to be 135. This closely follows on the heels of troubles at other household names such as Oroton and Esprit; indeed, financial troubles at Myer are constantly in the headlines. From all reports, the movement of retail to online still has a long way to grow in Australia, which puts more pressure on established retail stores. Looking into the longer-term, changes to consumerism are encapsulated in Ikea’s head of sustainability suggesting the world has reached ‘peak stuff’.

What does all that mean for small business and small retail? For those not paying attention already, it’s a reminder that customer experience will continue to take on higher and higher importance in business interactions. Differentiating with products, location and price is already tough, and going to get tougher.

Yet there are standouts in the retail world, those that have developed a brand experience which is truly memorable, that are disciplined in their application of the brand from start to finish. Skincare brand Aesop is one such company, which can give us all a lesson in how to create a rave-worthy brand.

Like all great brands, the marketing value is built in. Product design is the first magnet: fragrance, feel and design, all high quality and unique, and packaging that set new standards which have been copied since. The customer experience is so nice that Aesop has become a common gift; my sister refers to birthday gifts as ‘trading Aesop’.

The Aesop retail experience builds on the brand, with subtle attention to detail that makes customers feel special, in an understated and stylish way. All stores are designed with minimalist elegance, simple materials and palette, all different but uniquely Aesop. Customers that walk past can test the creams on their skin, leaving a lingering feel and smell that make you want to return.

The retail experience is something else. Staff are well trained, seamlessly assisting customers with a no-fuss service that at the same time, elevates them. Once you have your tea, any enquiry about a product quickly leads to feel and test, to find the right product but also to feel how luxurious they are. Even before you proceed to the register, the attendants are discussing what samples you would like to take home to try. The product packaging is already beautiful, gift wrapping is also offered, and the staff insist that you take a seat whilst they wrap your purchase. Ready to grab my purchase and walk out, the attendant walked me to the door, before handing me my purchase and thanking me.

It’s easy to stand out in customer service. Think about all the businesses you deal with every day – how many are memorable? How many would you recommend? You don’t have to go to Aesop level but small details, genuine interest, attention and care go a long way. A thank you call, a small gift, or getting to know your client can really set you apart.

It's a pity most businesses don't have the discipline to carry it through. Do you? Can you afford not to?

By: Dr. Warren Harmer