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High-Street

The future of UK retail – Brexit and beyond

By Tejas Dave, Founder and CEO of eBusiness Guru and Avasam

It’s tough out there for retailers right now. Brexit is causing all kinds of concerns – just this week we heard of Domino’s spending £7 million to stockpile ingredients.

Whether you’re a leaver or a remainer, just the uncertainty is causing havoc with spending. In July, average retail sales to July rose by just 0.5% – and that’s a new record low.

Brexit aside, it’s still tough. UK spending growth is at a low, and companies are entering administration regularly – more than we expected possible. Even household names we might expect to be doing well are demanding reductions on their rent. Even Primark, which continues to thrive, is demanding rent reductions – though this is in response to those with CVAs. 

Many media outlets are decrying eCommerce for the decline of the high street. eCommerce businesses can provide lower prices due to lower overheads, and greater convenience, with next-day home delivery in many cases. But eCommerce has been growing for over twenty years – it’s hardly a surprise that was sprung on the high street overnight. Not only that, some retailers continue to grow – Primark makes huge profits without even having an eCommerce presence. And consumers are in fact still spending – eCommerce sales are expected to exceed £184 billion in the UK in 2019.

So what’s the solution? With greater overheads, without cutting margins razor thin, how can the UK high street survive? Even without facing these difficulties, retailers needed to look to their future, by taking their cue from eCommerce. Going forward, eCommerce isn’t the enemy – and in fact, could be the saviour of the UK high street.

Taking a blended, omnichannel approach will help customers remain engaged with retailers. Even Amazon is working to create offline locations – just look at Amazon Go! We’re not saying that all retailers should try to emulate their business model – clearly that isn’t possible. But by increasing offerings and services, bricks and mortar retailers can remain popular with customers.

These partnerships can be mutually beneficial between online and offline retailers. Where high street locations aren’t economically viable for businesses, creating partnerships can enhance the customer experience and profits all round.

Consider a small high street retailer who partners with an eCommerce company that aligns with their brand values. They might keep very limited stock for certain items, with more stock available to be DropShipped directly to customer homes. The customer sees the item and decides to buy it. The store then places the order and takes payment. Their eCommerce partner sends the order the same day, to arrive the next day.

The customer benefits from the arrangement because:  

·       They’ve made sure they want the product

·       They can speak to an advisor

·       They know their order was placed successfully

·       They don’t have to put their card details into a website

·       They know which day their order will be delivered

·       They don’t need to be confident with using technology

This arrangement is great for customers who prefer to shop offline. Both retailers benefit – and chances are, the customer bought another item while they were in-store too. Even if they didn’t it’s likely with a positive experience, they’ll return to make further purchases.

If the retail location can process returns too, they see increased footfall and in-store sales. Customers receive an enhanced experience from both brands, and the eCommerce company receives more sales, faster returns and reduced costs.

Further application of technology can provide bricks and mortar retailers with more options to increase footfall. Click and collect sales are expected to account for 61.2% of spend by 2022. Whether that’s through partnerships or through lockers in-store, that’s a lot of potential to work with.

Partnering with eCommerce businesses isn’t the only way retailers with outlets can diversify their offerings though. Consumers are becoming accustomed to ordering a wide range of products in one place. High street retailers can capitalise on this. A reciprocal arrangement might provide an EPOS point showing stock a partner across town has. The point might have various options – for click and collect, home delivery and different payment options.

There isn’t a magic solution to save the high street. But the government is aware, and is looking at changing the planning system to help. Brexit will happen, one way or another. But with the right application of technology, and thinking creatively, retailers can adapt and secure their growth into the future.

About the Author

Tejas Dave, Founder and CEO of eBusiness Guru and Avasam, has been helping eCommerce businesses worldwide since 2010. Evasam is a platform that allows wholesalers and sellers to collaborate. Tejas is revolutionising the shipping industry and creating a new level of financial stability with the aim of creating 5,000+ jobs within the UK. Tejas is using technology and automation to provide solutions to e commerce challenges by removing the limitations that are currently placed on what and where people can sell.

Brands shouldn’t let sustainability take a back seat in retail strategy – here’s why…

By Dan Williams, Founder and Managing Director at 100% Group

No-one ever said creating a retail strategy for a global brand was easy. Today, it’s tougher than ever. 

As they fight for growth in ever-more saturated markets, brands face fast-evolving social trends, a volatile political climate, and unpredictable trading conditions. In plotting the path ahead through this complex mix of issues, it can be easy for brands to let sustainability take a back seat. 

But is that the most sensible approach?

The evidence suggests that building sustainability into a brand isn’t just good for the planet; it’s good for business too. As consumers become better educated about sustainability, they become more concerned about the ethics of their products. They want to engage with and buy from brands that both talk about sustainability and prove their commitment with practical actions. 

This view was confirmed by a recent survey we conducted with 200 retail professionals, the results of which show most of those questioned believe building sustainability into a brand offers huge potential.

Questioning also revealed, however, that many brands were not exploiting this potential – leaving the field wide open for those that do.

Our research found that sustainability is a driving force for sales and brand engagement, with 86% of respondents saying that the issue is important to customers when making a buying decision.  

When asked how important it was to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability in different aspects of a brand, respondents ranked in-store elements relatively highly:  67% (the highest number) of respondents said it is either critical or very important to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable packaging and 61% to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable retail displays. 

This isn’t surprising, as both packaging and display have an immediate impact on the sales experience. Respondents stated, for example, that a planned and implemented retail display increases sales by 30%, profits by 28% and footfall/traffic by 25%. 97% of those questioned said that retail displays were important for sales in general.

For the wider aspects of the brand – product manufacturing, distribution, branding and marketing – figures for the importance of demonstrating a commitment to sustainability were also significant: between 52% and 63% of respondents rated this as either critical or very important for each aspect.

Though these figures are positive, none come close to reflecting the headline finding that nearly nine out of ten respondents believe sustainability is important in buying decisions.  There is a similar mismatch in terms of the clear benefits people expect an environmental sustainability policy to provide and the number of people who say their brand has such a policy in place.

Expected benefits were an average increase of 20% in footfall in-store, 21% in profits, and 23% in sales. Despite these potential rewards, however, only 69% of respondents said their brand had an environmental policy. 10% said they didn’t know if their brand had a policy or not.

These figures show a clear disconnect between what people believe will make a difference and what they do in practice. The discrepancy highlights that there is plenty of space in the market for those keen to put sustainability at the heart of their brand and use it to connect with customers.

Brands that do choose to put a focus on sustainability must, of course, do so as a genuine initiative rather than a marketing ploy. The importance of trust in keeping customers loyal has been widely recognised. Brands present false sustainability credentials at their peril. When businesses claim one thing and do another, customers – quite rightly – feel cheated. And a customer who feels cheated is rather less likely to support or engage with the brand on social media or to buy the brand’s products. 

When planning strategy, businesses may not be able to second guess the future. But by aligning their brand with current customer concerns, they can give themselves a strong competitive advantage. In a world of fake news and daily revelations of dishonest practices, we’re all looking for organisations we can trust to do the right thing. For a growing number of customers choosing which brands to support, the ‘right thing’ is a commitment to sustainability combined with an honest approach to the issues. 

And – as the survey shows – opportunities are there for the taking. 

It’s always been important for brands to evolve in response to customer requirements. In today’s crowded market places, this responsiveness is ever-more critical – yet many brands are still underestimating the importance of sustainability as a sales driver. In doing so, they risk losing market share.

That market share will go instead to those who understand their customers better: brands that embrace the issue of sustainability and make buying their products the easy choice for customers searching for the ethical option.

In store security in focus

Rising crime, specifically violent crime, is a concern for every retailer. Staff are well trained. Stores are alarmed and often linked to 24 hour monitoring services. But is that enough?

Real-time communication between staff is already proven to reduce shoplifting; adding instant access to security expertise provides another level of staff protection.

As Tom Downes, CEO, Quail Digital, explains, when faced with an incident, staff with wireless headsets can communicate not only with their colleagues across the store but also directly with the security experts at the monitoring service to gain essential assurance and instruction.

Violent Threat

Retailers take staff safety incredibly seriously, but how should companies respond to the latest retail crime figures from the British Retail Consortium? Not only is crime rising but attacks are increasingly violent, involving not only knives and guns but also syringes, even tasers; while threatening behaviour is also on the rise.

This article originally appeared on Total Security Briefing – Click here to continue reading.

How is retail using personalisation to regain offline market appeal?

Shopping habits have changed, and many customers have abandoned the historic weekend saunter down the high street in favour of convenient, online alternatives.

These days, brands must go above and beyond to ensure footfall in their physical stores. Modern marketing strategies must tailor their approach and face the challenge of how to regain offline market appeal. But, just how are they achieving this? Let’s take a look in our guide below…

Personalisation can enhance the buying experience

A recent study found that 75% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy from a brand which recognizes them by name, or that recommends them products based on previous purchases. Analytics can provide customer information which assists with personalisation, and this is key to building brand loyalty.

The iconic jeweler Tiffany and Co. brought a breath of fresh air to the opening of their Covent Garden store, creating a ‘Style Studio’ where they sell more than just their luxury jewels. Homeware and accessories have been added to the range, to give the brand a better positioning in the everyday life of their customers, found within the exquisite on brand studio, finished in the company’s classic duck egg blue.

Further features such as a personalisation station called #MakeItTiffany where customers can get jewellery items engraved. The aesthetic of the store also targets the Instagram generation of younger shoppers, and the store is an experience within itself. 

Back to basics to capture the offline audience

The travel retail industry has taken a notable hit in recent years, as the age-old tradition of visiting a high street agent has become a thing of the past. With companies such as Airbnb and a plethora of agents taking their businesses online, physical travel agents have had to think of innovative ways to retain the holiday booking experience as an offline task.

Virgin Holidays have taken this on board and created a string of concept stores to revitalise the booking experience. The stores include mocked up airplane cabins and virtual reality technologies to take customers on a simulated tour of a destination. By playing on sensory features, Virgin are capitalising on the ‘real’ elements which are far harder for digital to replicate. They have essentially gone back to basics, providing a friendly, visual experience in order to help trigger conversions.

This exemplifies the fact that certain personalisation methods in retail are exclusive to the offline space, and  22%of younger and older families still book their holiday in store which proves the value. 

Striking a balance between offline and online

Shops may all be flocking to digital platforms, but some are choosing to buck the trend and take their personalised services back to where it all began. Before the age of department stores and supermarkets, stores were small and independent, which made for strong rapports with customers.

However, the emergence of large, modern stores made shopping a far less sociable activity. When online furniture and homeware retailer Made.com decided to take a leap of faith and open a physical store, they kept this concept at the heart of their plans.

The recently relaunched Soho London showroom captured the best of both worlds, from QR codes to assist in locating products to staff lead workshops for customers to attend. By doing so, they struck the perfect balance between the offline and online world.

Knowing your customers and help encourage sales

Much personalisation comes from purely knowing your customers, and companies such as Joules offer targeted discounts to coincide with sales and shopping events, including Black Friday. By providing the relevant discounts, customers are more likely to feel drawn towards a purchase as the offer is based on their previous buying habits with the brand.

Urban Outfitters use their reward scheme to dish out points to shoppers, even just by paying a visit to the store. Incentives like these can provide the fuel for a conversion, as well as a trip to the shops. Many stores offer memberships or points cards, which offer regular treats or an annual vouchers provide the motivation for a purchase, as simple as it might sound!

Overall, retailers are rejuvenating their approaches to retail, with a new degree of personalisation. Human elements are the most difficult to replicate online, therefore retail is effectively playing to its own advantage by boosting the presence of personalisation by creating a shopping experience which is tailored to the customer. 

Article produced by Where The Trade Buys, UK based suppliers of personalised travel mugswith a high quality finish.

FM financing – The key to saving our High Streets?

By Rob Marriott, Marketing & Strategic Bid Director at SPIE UK

The recent news about Debenhams falling into administration is just another nail in the coffin for the British High Street. Part of the problem can be attributed to retailers’ legacy estates. Swelling rents, wage hikes, long lease periods and aging property in urgent need of upgrading are all contributing factors.

However, retailers are struggling to find budget to overcome these problems. 

Sometimes heralded as the panacea, new smart technology installed throughout shops, warehouses etc. would give retailers additional useful data which could help them manage their operations more efficiently. Benefits of this approach could include reducing how much energy is used, improving staff wellbeing, implementing predictive maintenance and enhancing the customer experience, which would all help contribute to lowering long-term operating costs. Unfortunately, organisations are being held back in the short term by the hefty up-front costs that this sort of technology investment requires, as well as the need to provide leadership teams with a robust business case for its installation. 

The article originally appeared on FM Briefing – Click here to continue reading…

GUEST BLOG: Retailers need digital strategies to address the change in the way we shop

Grant Coleman, VP and Market Director, UK, SC and MEA, Emarsys

For the past decade, many brands have sought to create online shopping experiences to match, or even outdo, their in-store counterparts. Typically, this often consisted of activity specifically targeted at peak online shopping days or around one-off offers, causing a shift in how many British consumers opt to shop. So what differences are retailers experiencing and how can they react?

Combining the offline and online worlds

It’s certainly not straightforward for in-store retailers to keep up with the ease of online shopping, so the key to success is bringing them together to unify their online and offline customer experiences. By no fault of their own, a store’s retail staff can’t even tell on first glance whether that person has even ever shopped with the brand before. But when that same person visits the website, the experience can be automatically personalized. Offers, product recommendations, inventory, and other specific customer preferences populate within milliseconds — and be optimised to the screen size of the device they’re using, time of visit, location and language. Essentially, the online journey is geared to create an experience that’s pre-loaded with knowledge of previous browsing and buying behaviour.

The reason why this hybrid buying journey is becoming ever more important is down to the ubiquitous presence of technology. The rise of online and mobile shopping has not just changed how we shop – it’s reinvented the entire customer experience from end-to-end. For instance, according to our research, nearly two thirds (64%) of online shoppers are put off by shipping costs, which partly explains why nearly half (40%) of purchases are made through a combination of offline and online behaviour.

Optimising the offline experience, not just the online

Retailers like French beauty brand Sephora have successfully launched applications that seek to drive both online and offline sales through an interactive feature. Their app essentially attaches a service to their in-store offering by supplying its customers with tutorials on new makeup application techniques, often featuring selfies uploaded by users directly from their smartphones. Aside from its community-building impact, the app helps users to recreate Sephora’s in-store makeover looks, while also driving them to the nearest store thanks to beacon alerts, effectively unifying online behaviours with offline interactions. 

The rise of on-demand commerce, and the resultant expansion in the retail logistics industry has facilitated incredibly fast delivery turnaround times. This trend towards convenience is particularly evident amongst shoppers, who are notorious procrastinators.

Using physical dominance to boost your online operation

However, given consumers’ aforementioned concerns around shipping costs, retailers are looking to reflect their physical dominance with online cues. They play on a shoppers desire for instant gratification by driving offline action while users are online shopping; “Want it NOW? This item is in stock at a store X miles from you”. This alleviates the delay incurred by shipping times.

The brands leading the way in these connected experiences understand the value of connecting different facets of the experience and in fact, bringing the offline world online. Still, too many retailers simply have a mobile app or they have a mobile-responsive website. They need a digital strategy which incorporates all platforms in order to succeed.

Opting for omnichannel to deliver personalised customer experiences

Brands are moving slowly but surely away from multichannel initiatives into omnichannel or channel-agnostic initiatives oriented around the customer. For brands to remain relevant and keep up with ever-changing consumer trends, we’ll need to see a collective, industry-wide shift towards embracing omnichannel strategies that bring rich data from physical stores together with the abundance of available digital data provides a perfect case for this approach to be put into practice, and this year the best-performing online retailers factor the in-person experiences that help inform our shopping habits and shape our overall interactions with brands into their strategies. Marketers that do this will be able to create holistic buying experiences that drive and reward customer loyalty and induce customer retention for years to come. 

Security cameras: The future of retail sales strategy?

Ask somebody what they immediately think about when someone mentions CCTV and their mind often jumps to the idea of; being watched, invasion of privacy or even the phrase ‘Big Brother’, writes Andy Martin, Vertical Segment Leader at Morphean

The tussle between security over privacy remains, but there are new benefits that may be changing the balance in favour of the “security camera.”

Take a look at retail for example. Retail brands are fighting on all fronts to establish an understanding of and a connection to their customers.  Omni channel retailers need to understand the role of their stores in their overall sales strategy, and brands still compete against each other and pureplay retailer for sales.

Could security cameras actually be the secret to their survival? With new technologies developing all the time, it seems that CCTV could be the silver bullet that the high street was looking for this whole time…

This article originally appeared on Security Briefing – Click here to continue reading.

GUEST BLOG: The changing face of customer loyalty

By Dino Forte, CEO, Ventrica

New research shows that 76% of consumers admit they would switch to a competitor if they have just one bad experience with a brand they like.

On the flipside, over half of consumers say that once they’re loyal to a brand, they’re loyal for life. This offers the question – how loyal are consumers actually being towards their favourite brands, and what will it take for a consumer to have a bad experience?

Gaining loyal consumers and advocates is something most brands aim for; but given the research, how far can this really be stretched? Unfortunately, many brands take loyalty for granted. The brands that hold a monopoly over a market, with unique products or services that can’t be found elsewhere, are often the strongest culprits of this, knowing their customers will continue to return regardless of the customer service they provide.

However, even in this situation, delivering a customer experience (CX) that meets the customer’s expectations and needs, is critical. Even for organisations in industries such as utilities where many consumers stay with their provider to avoid the hassle of switching, CX is still key. After all, it is six times more expensive to win new business than to retain it; showing how essential it is for organisations to look after their customers, even if they are confident they won’t leave.

New touchpoints and skilled staff

The fact is, delivering a CX that enables an organisation to remain competitive and encourage the customer to return is a big challenge. With numerous touchpoints now available to today’s consumer – from social media, to the organisation’s website, webchat and phone calls – how can a brand ensure it reaches its customers across all channels but provide the same experience, irrespective of channel?

All consumers will agree that a ‘bad’ CX involves a frustrating experience, long waiting times, unanswered questions, unknowledgeable staff, faulty products or simply not being listened to. Can we really blame them if an experience like this makes them want to switch to a competitor? However, it doesn’t need to be like this.

An organisation’s contact centre should form the heart of the CX it provides, with a trained, dedicated team ready to answer queries and resolve any issues the customer may have experienced across multiple channels. A customer service team should completely embody the persona of the brand; understanding who the customer is, what issue they’re facing and how it can be resolved in a quick, seamless manner that leaves the customer satisfied and eager to purchase a product or service again.

If a bad experience strikes, an organisation can’t blame a customer for wanting to look elsewhere. It’s therefore essential for organisations to put measures in place to ensure that all channels are equipped to provide the best CX possible – so that a customer’s loyalty never comes into question at all. 

GUEST BLOG: Could Google help our High Streets?

By Mediaworks

Time does not seem to be the best healer when it comes to the plight of UK High Streets, with major retail losses making headlines in many national newspapers.

In 2018, Toys R Us and Maplin stores were vacated, and trade ceased. Even the infamous discount stores did not survive unscathed, as Poundworld closed its doors for the last time.  

More than 28 multi store retailers went into liquidation in 2018, and these ill-fated stores have set a precedent. Music retailer HMV seem to have set the tone for 2019, being the first to announce that they were facing financial difficulties earlier this year. 

Elsewhere, digital sales in retail have more than tripled in the last 10 years, with online spending equating to 18% of all sales in the sector. Stock availability and an extensive range of delivery options are partly responsible for the surge in e-shoppers, with supportive user journey’s and simplified checkouts sealing the online splurge for many. 

Some pessimistic experts have predicted that High Streets will be a thing of the past by 2030, so we must act imminently to save our beloved shops. But could retail find an unsuspecting ally in the form of search engine giant, Google? 

Here’s how Google could help to revive our humble high streets:

Omni-Channel Experience for the High Street

Implementing the omni-channel nature of e-commerce into retail stores seems near impossible, but a London start up, Near St, are curating digital displays of stock from shops and making them available online. It will enable shoppers to visit the store online prior to them taking to the street, saving time and avoiding any wasted journeys. 

A Digital Town

Many businesses across the nation are already embracing Google, using their ‘Google My Business’ tool to create a profile for themselves with useful information such as a contact number, opening hours and address. Almost half of all Google searches last year had local intent, showing the necessity for the service. 

Back to the Future

The conventional shopping trip is still a big revenue contributor, with 82% of sales taking place offline. The task at hand for the high street is to optimise customer experience, making it feel as convenient and straight-forward as online shopping. Companies such as Marks & Spencer and EE are already acknowledging the shift in value of the in-store experience, while technologies such as AR and VR are becoming increasingly commonplace, with Google’s own product ‘Google Cardboard’ pioneering the integration of simulated reality in retail. 

The UK High Street is not oblivious to its own losses, as major retailers are constantly evolving their online marketing strategies and adding digital elements to their in-store services.

How will you save your brand?