For the past 10 years I have heard credit union CEOs say they want to create a Starbucks-like retail experience. For some, it has been the Starbucks veneer that has appealed to them, but for many others, it has been simply acase of follow the leader. The Starbucks retail store experience, with its music, earthy color palettes and hipster environment is hard to ignore. It’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee and perhaps even hangout to get some work down, provided the Wi-Fi is free and a seat is available.
From its origins, the Starbucks marketing strategy has focused on creating a “third place” for people to go to between home and work. Creating this unique and relaxing “experience” and “atmosphere” for people has been very important for the coffee retailer as they have realized that this is one of the defining concepts attached to the company. But let’s admit it, your credit union is not going to be a “third place”. And it can’t generate a member return by offeringa coffee shop environment.
With all the talk of mobile banking and Generation C, you’d think the branch is going by the wayside. I don’t believe this to be true. According to a recent study by Novantas, consumers are psychologically attracted to branches. This being said, while I think branches still play an important role in driving sales, they have the highest operating costs. So simply investing in coffeebars and filling branches with comfy sofas likely will not support your bottom line. Besides, the “crowded house” approach to retail design is thankfully a thing of the past. Even a handful of “bankers” I know are creating environments that are less distracting for consumers, and more focused on reducing the banking chore. Retail space design should be centered on simplicity and clarity. This certainly does not describe the average Starbucks store, so maybe it’s time we stop talking about them all together. Let’s move on.
Banking is not sexy. Your members want to get in, get out and get it over with.
It follows that a visit to branch, for whatever the reason, should be easy and satisfying. As the founder of Simple (formally Bank Simple) says, “ banking shouldn’t suck”. Citibank, a bank that many of my credit union friends love to hate, is on to something with a strategy focused on customer-centric innovations that draw on smart banking technologies. They are using technology, retail design and onsite staff (dare I say bankers) to minimize the bankingchore while aiming for a value-added consumer experience that compels visitors to interact freely with the environment and explore product offerings. Staff is specially trained to operate in this kind of environment. If they offer coffee, I can assure you that it is not the focal point of the design.
For the record, I wrote this during vacation at a Starbucks in Williamsburg, Virginia. I selected a ”third place” that did not feel like home or the office. Even if my bank or credit union offered such as space, I wouldn’t use it. The experience there is already mundane enough and the unmanned concierge desk and coffee bar, serves horrible coffee. By the way, if you’re going to try and emulate Starbucks in your branch, at least make sure the coffee is hot. And you sure shouldn’t be serving Folgers.
Bryan Clagett is a principle driver of Geezeo’s global marketing, brand and outreach efforts. Clagett joins founders Shawn Ward and Peter Glyman in establishing Geezeo as the premier personal financial management provider in the financial services industry. Since 1987, Bryan has held a number of executive positions in the financial services industry. www.geezeo.com