Exclusive Q&A: The store is a personal matter for GNC

BY Dan Berthiaume

GNC Holdings is applying data analytics and lessons from online retailing to its brick-and-mortar operation.

Chain Store Age recently sat down with Joe Gorman, executive VP operations, GNC, to discuss how the specialty health-and-wellness retailer is using omnichannel strategies, advanced data analytics, and good old human interaction to provide the brick-and-mortar environment today’s customers desire.

How have customer expectations of the store experience changed in the past few years?
“Customers have come to expect the same experience from brick-and-mortar as they see online – from more personalized interactions to speedy checkout. They want access to more information to ensure they’re making meaningful purchases, which means that in-store associates need to be equipped with the tools to meet those consumer needs.”

How can retailers provide customers with solutions to make the in-store experience more personal?
“Retailers must understand their audience in order to make the in-store experience more personal. This involves using data on the back end to truly understand what their audience wants. We know that everything from the store design to signage plays a big role, so it’s important to figure out what works best for your consumers: how do they shop in store? What products are they buying more of? How can we engage them throughout?

“We recently launched our concept store in South Hills Village Mall in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania to test out certain concepts to see what resonates with our consumers. The store features registered dietician consults, customized regimen recommendations, an in-store in-body body composition analyzer, and health and wellness seminars, all of which are meant to educate consumers on their unique health profile to provide a truly customized plan that meets their needs.

“While this is specific to our store, retailers must dig into what works for them, whether it’s providing perks that consumers can only receive by coming into the store or making sure store associates are going above and beyond to make consumers’ shopping experiences more seamless.”

How can retailers provide associates with solutions to make the in-store experience more personal?
“At GNC, all of our associates go through an in-depth training program before stepping out on the sales floor. This ensures they have the right tools to make each customer experience unique and customized. Giving associates an opportunity to learn about each product and how it might benefit a consumer, as well as providing them with hands on training that’s both fun and educational, gives them what they need to be able to tailor each recommendation to the consumer.

“It’s also important to remember that people have different ways of retaining information, and staying in constant communications with your associates is key to making sure they succeed.”

What can retailers do on the back end to make the store experience more personal?
“Use data to your advantage. Customer data allows you to gather valuable insights on the effectiveness of product placement, store location, advertisements, etc., to create a shopper-first experience. As the current retail blueprint is shifting, retailers must evolve their thinking and provide customized solutions without losing sight of the customer.

“Additionally, use your e-commerce channels to your advantage. Tap into what customers are doing online to mimic your online experience in-store.”
What strategies help reduce friction between the brick and mortar and digital channels to enable more personalization in-store?
“Incorporating tablets within the store, as well as in-store use of loyalty data, has helped provide a customized experience for our consumers. Through tablets we can access customers’ past purchases to serve them more quickly and even provide recommendations for alternative or supplementary products they may want to try.

“Understanding the customers’ purchasing habits helps us bridge the gap in store for recommendations on what to buy. Additionally, having the ability to ship-to-home and sign up for our subscription services enables a how to buy dimension that brings the customers back.”


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