Every business has been forced to change in the past year, it doesn’t matter the industry you are in. Retail is no different, but unlike others, it has always been a dynamic industry at the forefront of responding to consumer trends and the manner in which people want to consume things. Retailers have always understood they are at the vanguard of that change. This past year has truly focused the mind on this and the need for innovation like never before.
It’s not just about entirely new initiatives. Many trends that were already taking place have had their roll out compressed from years to months. Here are five innovations that the pandemic has speeded up that can offer a pathway to sustained growth to those who take advantage.
1. Click and collect
There is renewed and growing enthusiasm for click and collect. In part that’s linked to the general increase in online shopping but it’s also because of the convenience and importantly the hygienic, social distancing aspects. A pandemic trend that is set to stay, it is now an embedded part of many consumer journeys, especially in grocery shopping, but also increasingly in all non-essential retail. Our own research has shown that over 35% of people want to see this trend continue even after the pandemic. Click and collect certainly appeals to more sustainability-focused customers. These shoppers want to shop online but also have a focus on sustainability with concerns about the environmental impact of the deliveries in terms of the distance travelled and packaging. Retailers should think about how to maximise the opportunity to boost profitability. An obvious example being upselling products in a collection environment.
2. Using Augmented Reality to assist big ticket purchases
As we can see from the figures post-lockdown, physical retail has an enduring appeal with huge pent up demand being realised. However with more consumers having been forced to buy higher ticket items online, smart brands are looking at new technology to fuse the offline and online world and assist sales. Ikea is a brand that has always focused on innovation and disrupting the traditional retail experience. They made a smart play last year, acquiring AR imaging startup Geomagical Labs. The intention was to drive shoppers to purchase more big-ticket items without always needing to visit a store. Its technology allows a user to quickly scan a room using any smartphone, render that into a panoramic 3D picture in a few minutes, remove all the furniture in it and then add in new items to scale, helping shoppers picture products ‘in-situ’. This will be implemented by Ikea into its website and apps to let people start to create accurate visualisations of their spaces, and how they would look with Ikea pieces in them. While the technology remains nascent, other retailers should definitely take note.
3. Joining up the omni-channel experience
Ecommerce has been a big winner from this past year with millions more now comfortable with shopping online. However the experience remains disappointing for many. A recent survey by Ayden found that more than two thirds (68%) of Brits say they will now not shop with organisations if they had a bad experience either online or in store (an increase of 18% since June 2020). Meanwhile, 53% believe retailers need to do more to link their physical and online stores. Invariably the offline and online experience is not joined up and inconsistent. Too often the focus online is based on the ‘what’, product specs, price etc without thinking about the ‘why’ a consumer wants a product. Smart retailers and brands know it shouldn’t be the ‘channel’ that is the focus but the customer experience, which is then realised across all its touchpoints. Starting with an audit across all channels, brands need to ensure they are visible and joined up. The evidence shows brands who are joined up have succeeded over the past year.
4. Training the experts at scale
A key element of the formula for success instore is a shopper’s engagement with retail sales advisors. Are they proactive, helpful, skilful, knowledgeable, and capable of providing a personalised experience? This is something the online experience can’t replicate and physical retailers need to capitalise upon. Much is down to individuals, their training and management the retailer provides, but when it comes to talking about a brand and its products it is vital they are informed, motivated and most importantly advocates. This is often down to brand led initiatives and while in the past these experiences were provided in person, the pandemic has forced new innovative ways through virtual training being offered with face to face communication not being possible. For example Gekko has developed a new digital learning and engagement platform for brands to talk directly with Retail Sales Advisors, allowing them to choose when and how they learn, with gamification and incentives driving uptake. It’s meant we have been able to train many more staff members and have far more impact. While we will still be visiting face to face – a hybrid model will be our new way of doing business. A bit like peoples’ changed working arrangement, it’s taken a major event to force through a sensible and more efficient way of doing business.
5. The advisor’s new domain – the video call as well as the shopfloor
While digital methods are proving successful to train more instore experts at scale, the digital world can also be utilised to provide direct expert assistance to those making a considered purchase. Curry’s are one brand who tried a new approach during the pandemic with the ShopLive service offering expert advice to assist the sales process. A popup appears asking if you need buying advice, but rather than the experience being a frustrating one with a generic chatbot, shoppers can then start a one way video call with one of their experts. ShopLive now has over 800 ‘tech-perts’, aiding customers through their essential tech purchases. Each new expert goes through two days of specialist training to ensure they can help customers with every tech query. While a face to face conversation with a live product demo and test will always be the best way of answering any customers’ needs, this certainly can aid the sales process for those who would still rather not venture out or can’t for any reason.
Despite the atypical nature of the past year, we have seen many retailers react to the adversity with typical dynamism. The changes and digital transformation that has taken place will in the long run only be a good thing for the industry. A lot of the confident retailers have really begun to find their voice and discover a new way to navigate these uncertain, but exciting waters.
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