Taking back control

We’ve talked for so long about the high street and in particular independent retailers being the beating heart of the community and how the internet, large retail parks and changes in consumer behaviour has rocked this foundation to the core. We’re at the point where independent retailers are becoming a rare breed and, as such, local high streets become less appealing.

Whilst none of us could have imagined the COVID-19 situation to happen, it’s been such an almighty step change in the way we live.

Our fundamental societal roles have changed – working, shopping, education – as well as our attitudes to the community roles we all took for granted; our NHS, bin men, local butchers, bakers, milk deliverers have all been elevated to heroes in our communities.

But will this lead to a reappraisal of the role of independent retailers in the community? Will consumers look differently upon what they may have previously considered out of date?

So with a new captive audience and acceptance of service to society, how can independent retailers revive their fortunes by socialising their new audience and retain them through experiences? We all understand the power of retail experiences, but we now need to plan ahead and look at this with a post COVID- 19 social lens. Let’s face it, people have been thoroughly enjoying pubs, bars, restaurants and cinemas recently as they have missed doing this for quite some time. This includes the experience of physical retail and reliving the enthusiasm of consumerism as a pastime, rather than having another brown box left outside their front door.

Don’t just do the same

My first piece of advice. We’ll soon have a drastic change in seasons and there will be new product ranges ready and waiting to go. Remind people why they like physical shopping. The ability to see, feel and choose – think about layouts and colour, fun and opportunity for helpful conversation and engagement.

Westfield, the shopping centre chain, released its ‘How We Shop’ report discussing the biggest retail trends to date and what the future holds. The report said that 2025 is the tipping point year when more than half of retail square meterage will be dedicated to experiences rather than product.

A colossal 81 per cent of shoppers interviewed said they would be willing to pay more for experience, 75 per cent will spend more in stores that offer experiences as well as product, and 42 per cent want to see more creative experiences in store.

As an independent retailer, you may think that your store cannot compete with Westfield in terms of size, scale and budget, but recent consumer behaviour has shown that ‘local’ is just as important. So keep on fighting and entice consumers with products that appeal to their needs and desires to get out and shop and treat themselves. Make that contrast between the anonymity and soullessness that can be experienced by online shopping and the personal experience that local businesses can offer.

With 40 per cent of all online sales during the first three weeks in lockdown being ‘non-food’, the challenge is to win back those consumers who may have had no alternatives, particularly with distress purchases, to shop online. Take back control and don’t let go of your customer base.

Enhance the experience

The experience is the glue that holds this together. An experiential model can streamline logistics and free up cash flow, allowing your sales advisers time to spend helping customers.

Unlike the typical retail model that is focussed on immediate sales, the experiential model aims to drive traffic into the shop and extend the customer’s dwell time in the space. Even if it doesn’t result in immediate physical sales, it can still be a longer term win as customers who spend time browsing tend to buy more expensive items and come back time and again.

So think about how you could enhance the experience – whether it’s smaller or bigger ranging, specialisation, marketing, PR, advertising, training or extra services. And then how do you socialise it? Free coffee, a fitting service, desk space to speak to someone face to face, new displays, improved window dressing, giving back to the community, offering key worker discounts?

With an estimated £12.6 billion in revenue forecast to be lost from UK retail sales in 2020 and 34 per cent of people worried about the economic recovery, the impact of COVID-19 could be long-term. So, keep your head up and make a good case for every valuable consumer pound being spent. Appeal to a national new found sense of community and locality and aim to socialise the shopping experience.

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