What Meeting Planners Can Learn From Retailers

Nordstrom is opening its first location in New York City this week, and it's full of unique and customer-friendly amenities. What ideas and lessons can meeting planners steal from brick-and-mortar retailers?

Just the other day I was reading a Fortune article about upscale retailer Nordstrom opening its first location in New York City—a 47,000-square-foot men’s store—this week. At a time when it seems like most purchases take place online, a retailer opening a new location in one of the world’s most expensive cities may sound surprising. But, as Fortune reports, the new store will “will showcase features Nordstrom has been developing and banking on to keep its upscale department store approach in sync with changing consumer tastes and expectations.”

Among the unique features of this location: It will be staffed—though not open—24 hours a day, in case a customer wants to pick up an online order in the middle of the night or a business traveler needs an emergency suit for an early-morning meeting. And a shopper can use the Nordstrom app to reserve up to 10 items and have them waiting for him to try on in a dressing room assigned to him before he sets foot in the store.

Pretty cool, right?

Although it’s probably not feasible to staff your conferences round the clock, meeting planners can take some ideas from retailers that could increase attendee satisfaction. Here are three to consider:

Help attendees with any onsite tech or web-related issues. If you’ve ever owned an Apple product, there’s a good chance you’ve made a trip to the Genius Bar. When you make an online reservation at your favorite Apple Store, you get hands-on help from an expert. In my experience, these appointments are typically easy to make, staff is knowledgeable, and you leave feeling satisfied and taken care of.

Meeting planners should consider having a “genius bar” of their own at their larger conferences. There, association staffers can offer everything from conference app support to quick how-tos on updating member profiles and email preferences.

Amp up your customer service. When you hear the term “customer service,” a handful of brick-and-mortar retailers probably come to mind: Whole Foods, the Home Depot, and Nordstrom among them. What makes these stores stand out is that their employees are empowered to come up with solutions to customer problems, and regular customer-service training makes them comfortable dealing with all types of situations.

Meeting planners looking to implement something similar should take a cue from the American Animal Hospital Association. At its reinvented annual experience called Connexity, which will debut in September, meeting-goers will no longer be called attendees. Instead, they’ll be called guests.

“I think referring to them as guests really shows that we’re committed to delivering an exceptional experience,” said CEO Michael Cavanaugh, speaking at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference last month. “Sure, it puts some pressure on us to deliver, but it also points to the fact that we’re focused most on how we’re executing each part of the meeting with that guest perspective in mind.”

Embrace hands-on experiences. Beauty retailer Sephora has introduced a new store concept in the past two years called Beauty TIP (Tech, Inspire, Play), which is “designed to leverage technology to create an in-store beauty playground for shoppers.”

Customers can watch how-to videos and check out Sephora’s virtual try-on tools, such as a contouring app that maps out the exact areas of a customer’s face that should be highlighted or shaded. Other stations include a fragrance studio that uses sensory technology, called InstaScent, to help shoppers explore 18 scent families through a dry air delivery system before committing to a purchase.

Think about opportunities at your conferences that would allow for more hands-on experiences for attendees. Don’t worry, they don’t need to be as high-tech as Sephora offers. Maybe it’s more along the lines of role-playing exercise—something the World Hepatitis Summit tried in 2015.

Now it’s your turn: What other lessons do you think meeting planners can take from retail stores? Please share in the comments.

The Comme des Garçons pop-up shop at the Nordstrom NYC location. (Handout photo)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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