Why bricks-and-mortar stores are making a comeback

Greenstone Financial Services has opened its first-ever physical store as part of a move aimed at giving customers choice. Its CCO explains why

Opening a bricks-and-mortar store in an increasingly digitally-driven consumer culture seems counter-intuitive. Yet Greenstone Financial Services are banking on its new store giving customers what they want.

One of Greenstone’s insurance brands, Australian Seniors Insurance Agency (ASIA), is bucking the digital-first trend pervading the financial services industry, and recently opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in the Sydney suburb of Castle Hill. The plan is to open more over the next 12-18 months, and possibly take the idea national.

ASIA expects the new store to break down barriers that a digital-first approach puts between brands and their customers, and allow them to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Greenstone Financial Services chief customer officer, Sarah Richards, told CMO comprehensive research into segment needs went into the decision, and the business sees it as an important move as the over 60s market is set to boom.

“Initially the idea to open a physical store came from anecdotal feedback from customers and our team that people would like somewhere to visit. This started a chain reaction really,” Richards told CMO.

“So we took the feedback and quantified it with some consumer testing. We asked our target audience whether they would value being able to come into a bricks-and-mortar store. The results demonstrated 40 per cent of the people we spoke to would value being able to visit a store, and 80 per cent  would go there with the intent of getting a quote or purchasing insurance. This strong feedback was the catalyst to open the first store.”

Like many businesses now, the insurance industry is realising you have to provide consumers with a choice in how to interact with you, rather than just trying to funnel them into digital-only.

“It’s critical you provide the consumer with choice in how they want to interact with you, and there is a huge focus on trust and reliability. You can build that effectively in a face-to-face transaction, so the store aligns with customer preference and choice,” she said.

“We want to be able to reach as many of our customers as possible. Seniors is a growing segment, and within 10 years there will be 30 per cent more people over the age of 60. Currently there are five million people over the age of 60 in Australia, and they will continue to have their own preferences for how they do business.

“The store complements the channels we already provide. We have a single view of the customer and we know customers are using all channels.”

The business uses its own CRM bespoke systems to measure engagement, and to ensure compliance.

“Our platform allows us to see which channels customers are reaching out in, and their transaction history. It’s a critical piece of our business model, and it’s important to understand where our marketing investment is going, who it is reaching and how, because people don’t interact with us via a single method anymore,” Richards explains.

As for the store, it only opened six weeks ago, and the pilot period will be telling. “But within that pilot period we are definitely planning on opening more than one store over the next 12-18 months. If we have the right trigger points we would plan to take it national," Richards said. 

“It’s early days of course, but so far we are getting great feedback and appreciation from customers. Not everyone who walks into the store is looking for a product we offer at the moment, but the insight we gain is incredibly valuable.

“The store is designed to complement the marketing investment and extend reach points to our customers. Anything to allow the customer to transact with us.

“We help customers manage their own products via online portals in store as well, and we have a strong community focus."

For Richards, opening the store is critical in giving consumers choice.

"If you can cater to all preferred methods of interaction, then you are not limiting yourself. AI and chatbots are also in our thought process for the future," she added. "Technology is advancing all the time and we are watching it closely. You do have to consider the target market around those methods, and it’s on the agenda.”

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