Looking back to look forward

David Buckingham
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2019 is already shaping up to be an interesting year for retail. HMV has had mixed fortunes; while 27 stores are closing, 100 stores and more than 1,000 jobs are safe due to a buy-out by Canadian company Sunrise Records. And it’s hardly likely to be the last of the shifts we see on the high street this year. As we move further into the year, it’s the ideal time to take stock of what happened over the past 12 months and reflect on some of the positives that will influence the rest of 2019.

#1 Diversification
Looking forward, diversification and identifying potential collaboration opportunities will become even more important. Collaboration between brands is a great example of this in action, which we saw last year. M&S, for example, trialled in-store opticians during 2018 and recently announced its plans to open a sixth practice in 2019, with a spokesperson for M&S saying: “As part of our transformation plan, we’re adapting our UK store estate to better appeal to our existing customers and attract new ones”. And Waitrose has been trialling a range of Bupa services in stores to help customers get tailored advice on their health.

These ventures are designed to attract more (and different) shoppers into stores, while adding value to existing customers’ in-store experience. We are likely to see more of these collaborations over the coming months, and it will be interesting to see which brands will partner up this year to foster new and inventive kinds of retail experiences.

#2 Experience
We know that for retailers with a physical presence to flourish, they need to give shoppers a reason to visit their stores. And this reason needs to extend beyond just low prices or convenience, which is why 2018 was the year where retailers embraced the idea of “shoppertainment” or experiential retail. It has increasingly been adopted globally as a way of attracting shoppers into stores by offering interactive and engaging activities. These unique experiences have all been designed to keep shoppers in-store for longer, encourage them to spend money while they’re there, and then get them to return.

Nike is one example of a brand investing in experiential retail, highlighted by Nike Live, the concept store it launched in LA in 2018. The concept features the ‘Sneaker bar’, personalised style consultations, and an area where shoppers can try out products on treadmills. But it’s important to point out that experiential doesn't mean the same for every brand, concept or customer, and localisation is key to making it all work by using data to personalise experiences, services and product assortment.

Clearly, not all brands have the budgets that Nike has, but executed well, experiential retail can capture shoppers’ attention, reinforce brand loyalty and drive traffic into stores, ultimately providing retailers with greater opportunities to sell.

#3 Technology
Technology is crucial in retail. From logistics and back office functions, to in-store signage and the point of sale. But increasingly, technology can be used to improve customer experience and engagement. We’ve seen a rise in mobile POS technology, allowing sales staff to move more freely through stores, assisting customers, dispensing advice and allowing them to pay without queuing. Just consider how successful Apple is at providing a seamless customer experience in its stores, with sales staff roaming the store, and how that’s become the norm.

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Looking ahead, it’s clear that technology has an important role to play in the in-store experience. But it is likely that retailers will take a more pragmatic approach and focus their investment on technologies that will more easily demonstrate their value. While VR installations are great at attracting shoppers’ attention, retailers will be looking more towards established tools such as interactive digital displays and self-help kiosks to replicate the offline experience in-store. This can be as simple as checking product availability and using click and collect, to finding complementary products or visualising how certain products will look at home.

It’s difficult to predict accurately what’s ahead this year for retail. But we can expect the retail landscape to change and to continue to do so. As retailers scramble to gain a foothold in a rapidly-shifting market, they’ll turn to a number of approaches – some new, some tried and trusted – with technology playing a leading role. The aim? To improve competitiveness, increase customer footfall, and ultimately drive retention.


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