Retailing has changed. Since the nation emerged from the pandemic, customers have redefined what they expect from retailers. It’s no longer enough to depend on bricks and mortar alone. While the idea of experiential marketing has been around for a while, shopping is no longer just ‘visiting a shop’. It’s about a complete experience, from the moment a business is first discovered, to the after-sales connection and developing a brand affinity that customers want to feel and enjoy, wherever they are.
The new steps to retail success
The latest figures from Retail Week show that while customer numbers are still not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, they are just 10% less than they were during pre-pandemic 2019(1) – a welcome uptick and the signs of high streets bouncing back. As more people return to the office, either full or part time, the good news is that for businesses, customers want to be back in store and enjoying the in-person experience that online selling can’t (yet) offer.
To stay ahead of the game, retailers need to be looking beyond simply bricks and mortar or selling online, and developing innovative and cohesive brand identities that customers will recognise, enjoy and value.
Making a retail experience
Savvy retailers have really begun to home in on different approaches to selling. While for customers, value remains important, brand affinity is also important. Customers want to feel that they are part of something special – a tribe that resonates with their values and reflects who they are.
The shift to online retailing during the pandemic saw an upturn in customers demanding a better digital experience and greater online engagement with brands. This digital experience has now moved into retail spaces, with innovations such as touchpoint information screens and point of sale technology, to more engaging and personalised digital advertising, across a range of media channels. The metaverse and augmented reality is enabling people to enjoy a full retail experience from their smartphone. Brands like Style.me allow customers to upload their photo and measurements and have curated clothing try-on sessions without setting foot in a store.
As Innovation thrives online, so too is becoming more present in-store too. The rise of pop-up stores and showcase experiences, like the flagship Dyson store in Australia, offer customers everything from blow dry bars and try-before-you-buy stations, driving further change.
This shift is starting to trickle down to smaller retailers, who are using slick branding to bring cohesiveness to their online customers, giving them not just a product, but a recognisable identity of who the company is and what they are about. QR codes that link to ads, offers and promotions or VR shopping experiences are not only possible, but are actively being rolled out by innovators striving to bring physical and online retailing seamlessly together.
New spaces, new configurations
This rapid change in how people shop requires adept, quick thinking by retailers, to take advantage of the new opportunities that exist in this hybrid world.
Retailers can now quickly and cost effectively roll out pop up shops, collection points and kiosks in the shopping malls that were once anchored by now-declining department stores, as landlords look for new and innovative ways to use the empty space and revive the fortunes of destination shopping.
Everyone from small independent stores to high street names have had to make changes to their working environments. Back offices have become online warehousing spaces, staff rooms have become post rooms and POS systems have had to be reconfigured to manage both on and offline orders, with new systems and processes put in place to manage incoming sales made online or by phone. What was once temporary online retailing space needs permanence, with storage and systems that are designed to maximise efficiency and space. Supply chains too have had to adapt to giving customers choice of where and how orders are delivered and give retailers choice in how and where their orders are fulfilled.
Thankfully, shopfitters and storage companies have been receptive to these changes, offering flexible and configurable solutions that not only look good, but help to create retail businesses that are able to flex in whatever way future directions may take us.
Value remains key
One factor that is unanimous between both on and offline consumers is the demand for value. While big-ticket sales can justify big-ticket investment in promotion, smaller companies face the challenge of having to remain competitive on price without a big brand name behind them. There’s no point in increasing marketing costs if cost of sales increases substantially shrink bottom lines. With consumer confidence dropping at record levels with fears of increasing living expenses, retailers need to be prepared for whatever lies ahead.(2)
Fashion retailer French Connection has recently announced a hire business(3), while Boohoo and many others have announced a move into retailing second-hand items to customers(4). It begs the question: What can you do differently to transform what you do, that gives your customers greater choice and better value?
Retailers also have the opportunity to demand better value from their landlords, with reasonable rents, shorter leases and flexible, smaller spaces that can be only for a season, giving them opportunities to experiment, without high upfront costs.
Businesses like Shopfitting Warehouse are primed to help their retail customers with a wide range of business services and products to accommodate these changing needs and need for value and flexibility – from warehouse shelving and despatch stations, as well as innovative display fixtures and equipment.
Whatever the future may hold, the demand for fast, flexible and trusted retail partners will endure.