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Why consumer electronics retailers must develop a new ‘experience-centric’ playbook

The phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ has certainly proved the case with in-store electronics retailing. The category has faced some unprecedented challenges over the past two years. However reports of the demise of bricks and mortar retailing have proved greatly exaggerated. Experience-starved customers have voted with their feet and returned to stores in droves after the various lockdowns.

In the ‘considered purchase’ space – purchases made with significant financial or emotional thought – there is simply no match for the timeless ability of an in-store experience to engage all the senses and generate sales. This is particularly the case for consumer electronics – a category with such a high spend on key items and technical questions that need to be answered.

Mind the knowledge gap

We recently investigated the pandemic’s impact on ‘considered purchases’ in a research project called ‘Mind the Knowledge Gap’. Gekko surveyed experiences across several key retail categories in a study of 2,000 consumers, conducted by OnePoll. The categories studied included: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. 48% of respondents revealed they had made a considered purchase during the pandemic in the CE category. It was second only to DIY with 50%. However the research also revealed there is no time for complacency. The study showed that electronics retailers had lost out on some significant revenue due to poor advice during this period. 1 in 4 (24%) were put off making a purchase they had gone in-store to make, with 11% actually walking out of the store. This equates to £3.3bn in lost revenue for the category over the past 12 months alone. In fact of all the categories surveyed, shoppers in this category reported having some of the worst advice. This of course isn’t to say a poor experience was universal or even the norm. Indeed 60% said they had received ‘excellent or good advice in store’ overall, highlighting the benefit of human interaction and face-to-face sales. But the point is small improvements in advice can lead to big gains financially. With lost sales during the period and rising commodity and transport costs impacting the bottom line, this is an area that is relatively easy to fix.

Golden opportunity

The truth is £3.3bn could be a drop in the ocean compared to what could be achieved. 37% of shoppers in the CE category revealed they would be prepared to spend more if they received excellent and knowledgeable in-store advice, indicating a golden opportunity is there to be grabbed. This compared with 30% of shoppers in the home improvement category and 27% in homeware/ home furnishings and 21% in clothing and apparel. The study also unearthed something of a blueprint for success for electronic retailers. Consumers revealed the top factors driving a considered purchase. Number one was the ‘ability to see and touch a product’, according to 58% of respondents. Price promotion was second, rated important by 56% of respondents. This was followed by ‘great advice’ rated important by 37% of respondents and then an effective product demonstration (28%).

Gen Z

Additionally the research highlights another area for optimism for electronic retailers. That is in the behaviour of the younger generations. 18-24 year olds – known as Gen Z – are more interested in consumer electronics than any other category. 52% revealed they would be prepared to spend more if given better advice. Encouragingly for the future of physical retail, Gen Z are most likely to seek out great advice in store (45%) versus an average of 38% and are more likely to find staff knowledgeable across categories. They are also the most likely out of all ages to appreciate product demos (39%) against a 29% average across all ages. Finally 1 in 2 Gen Z’ers (52%) and 38% of Millennials will spend more for a good experience in store across all categories – crucial for the development of experiential retail. So how to respond? I think there are three key actionable take outs for consumer electronics retailers.

1) Invest in experts

Our research highlights the timeless appeal of a positive engagement with an in-store expert in CE. While we have spent so much of the past year and a half shopping online – it is clear online alone is no replacement for the experience and interaction of trained advisors. This is particularly the case in a category where more of us are prepared to spend more. They are consistently the best way to influence and convert a sale of a considered purchase item. Ensure they are on hand and fully trained to answer any question your curious customers may have. While some are struggling, the retailers with a real customer first mentality are succeeding. Every person that walks through the door should be viewed as a potential customer, an influencer, someone who will talk about you positively through their experience and tell others in person, online or on social media. Not viewed as just another body to ‘deal’ with. The benefits to the business can be significant.

2) Engage the senses and think price

An expert’s role is important but they can’t operate in isolation. As our study showed, the number one factor driving a considered purchase is the ability to see and touch a product. Price promotion and a great demo were also high on the list. So when it comes to physical retail and considered purchases, it is vital to engage all the senses and create a joined up experience leading the customer to the checkout. After all this desire to engage all the senses has only been heightened during the long lockdowns we have all endured with so much mind numbing time spent in front of screens. So creating a real retail theatre is vital. Good lighting, a price promotion clearly on display, ensuring customers can interact with the product when they want and of course having the expert on hand to answer questions. It may seem simple but it is worth revisiting your customer experience strategy. Start with a genuine audit of your brands or retail estate to ensure all the senses are being fully engaged.

3) Joined up brand experience

While the thirst for the physical store experience endures, it is not about going back to 2019. The genie is now completely out of the bottle for ecommerce with even the most hardened luddites now comfortable with online search and discovery. The smart strategy is now ensuring the experience is joined up and that we better understand the drivers of the online/offline experience. In our research a conclusive 85% of shoppers said they are now doing online research before making a considered purchase in-store. Belying any remaining stereotypes, the older age groups were more likely to go online first. 89% of 55-64 would research online first. Interestingly, 69% said a well synchronised online and offline experience would make them more likely to make a considered purchase. Brands need to therefore ensure they have consistency across the full spectrum of online touchpoints, including search, social and display advertising and in-store. How does the experience feel to a customer and how is this then prompting a likely sale? Reports of the demise of in-store retail have thankfully proved premature. But while we have emerged blinking into the sunlight and luckily still standing after this period, the world we now observe is changed. Indeed survival going forward is never guaranteed and really never was in the fast paced consumer electronics category. To succeed we need to develop a new ‘experience-centric playbook’ utilising the best that a joined up in-store experience can offer; the right experts on hand to complement an experience that engages all the senses. One that is seamless and joined up with the online world of discovery that led us to the store. As we look forward to a better year, there’s all to play for. Let’s go for it.

To read the full article please visit PCR

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

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Press Coverage – PCR – Shoppers reveal top factors motivating a ‘considered purchase

As retailers gear up for the peak of Christmas shopping, shoppers have revealed the top factors that would make them contemplate a considered purchase at retail. According to the survey of 2,000 respondents carried out by OnePoll on behalf of field marketing and retail experience agency, Gekko, the top factor driving a considered purchase is the ‘ability to see and touch a product’, according to 58% of respondents.

Despite being the most favoured strategy during the seasonal discounting period, price promotion was second, rated important by 56% of respondents. This was followed by ‘great advice’ rated important by 37% of respondents and then an effective product demonstration (28%). Meanwhile Covid concerns were lower down the list with 1 in 4 (25%) saying social distancing was now an important factor.

Gekko surveyed experiences across several key retail categories including: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. The purpose was to find out what influences shoppers in making a ‘considered purchase’ – purchases that are made with significant financial or emotional thought.

The survey shows there were key differences in age. Price promotion is actually the top factor for every age group until the +54 year olds when it starts diminishing in importance. Interestingly social distancing is a larger factor for 18-24 year olds with 37% rating this as important. This could be to do with vaccine hesitancy or less still being fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile the survey also reveals a majority of shoppers think most retailers haven’t adapted well to the pandemic in terms of the customer experience. The categories seen to have most adapted best to the pandemic are consumer electronics, 54%, followed by home improvement, 51%. These were the only categories a majority of consumers thought had adapted well or excellently. Worst performers were baby and child with just 29% of shoppers thinking they’d adapted well. Gaming was rated by just 31% of shoppers as having adapted well. In response Gekko is urging retailers to embrace an ‘experience-centric playbook’ to make up for lost time during the pandemic, engaging all the senses to bring back the theatre of retail.

Daniel Todaro, MD says: “When it comes to physical retail and considered purchases, it is vital to engage all the senses and create a joined up marketing experience that is going to lead the customer to the checkout till. Our research shows just how vital the ability to see, touch and engage with a product in a positive environment is a critical factor in considered purchase decisions. This desire may well have come about or been heightened by the long lockdowns we have all experienced, increasing our desire to shop in person. The decline in online sales share back to 27% is indicative of this. Price promotion is of course important but needs to be within the context of a wider customer engagement strategy. As the research shows, the role and approach of a knowledgeable sales advisor is also crucial.”

He continues: “To make the most of the opportunity, try to ensure the environment and setting complements the overall experience with, for example, good lighting, ambience and clearly visible price promotions. Stand back, encourage play, and keep the conversation flowing using open questions. Learn through specific questions and examples about the customers’ needs and lifestyle changes. This is the way physical retailers can ensure they can continue to win customers and offer a superb customer experience.”

Article originally published by PCR

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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Shoppers Reveal Top Factors Motivating A ‘Considered Purchase’: Engage The Senses, Think Price And Expert Advice

As retailers gear up for the peak of Christmas shopping, shoppers have revealed the top factors that would make them contemplate a considered purchase at retail. According to the survey of 2,000 respondents carried out by OnePoll on behalf of field marketing and retail experience agency, Gekko, the top factor driving a considered purchase is the ‘ability to see and touch a product’, according to 58% of respondents.

Despite being the most favoured strategy during the seasonal discounting period, price promotion was second, rated important by 56% of respondents. This was followed by ‘great advice’ rated important by 37% of respondents and then an effective product demonstration (28%). Meanwhile Covid concerns were lower down the list with 1 in 4 (25%) saying social distancing was now an important factor.

Gekko surveyed experiences across several key retail categories including: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. The purpose was to find out what influences shoppers in making a ‘considered purchase’ – purchases that are made with significant financial or emotional thought.

The survey shows there were key differences in age. Price promotion is actually the top factor for every age group until the +54 year olds when it starts diminishing in importance. Interestingly social distancing is a larger factor for 18-24 year olds with 37% rating this as important. This could be to do with vaccine hesitancy or less still being fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile the survey also reveals a majority of shoppers think most retailers haven’t adapted well to the pandemic in terms of the customer experience. The categories seen to have most adapted best to the pandemic are consumer electronics, 54%, followed by home improvement, 51%. These were the only categories a majority of consumers thought had adapted well or excellently. Worst performers were baby and child with just 29% of shoppers thinking they’d adapted well. Gaming was rated by just 31% of shoppers as having adapted well. In response Gekko is urging retailers to embrace an ‘experience-centric playbook’ to make up for lost time during the pandemic, engaging all the senses to bring back the theatre of retail.

Daniel Todaro, MD says: “When it comes to physical retail and considered purchases, it is vital to engage all the senses and create a joined up marketing experience that is going to lead the customer to the checkout till. Our research shows just how vital the ability to see, touch and engage with a product in a positive environment is a critical factor in considered purchase decisions. This desire may well have come about or been heightened by the long lockdowns we have all experienced, increasing our desire to shop in person. The decline in online sales share back to 27% is indicative of this. Price promotion is of course important but needs to be within the context of a wider customer engagement strategy. As the research shows, the role and approach of a knowledgeable sales advisor is also crucial.”

He continues: “To make the most of the opportunity, try to ensure the environment and setting complements the overall experience with, for example, good lighting, ambience and clearly visible price promotions. Stand back, encourage play, and keep the conversation flowing using open questions. Learn through specific questions and examples about the customers’ needs and lifestyle changes. This is the way physical retailers can ensure they can continue to win customers and offer a superb customer experience.”

What would be the most important factors to you in making a ‘considered purchase’ in store?

  • Ability to see and touch a product: 58%
  • Price promotion: 56%
  • Great advice: 37%
  • Effective product demonstration: 28%
  • Social distancing followed: 25%
  • A stylish store: 15%

Article originally published by Business Mondays

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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Shoppers Reveal Top Factors Motivating A ‘Considered Purchase’ – Can You Guess Them?

As retailers gear up for the peak of Christmas shopping, shoppers have revealed the top factors that would make them contemplate a considered purchase at retail. 

According to the survey of 2,000 respondents carried out by OnePoll on behalf of field marketing and retail experience agency, Gekko, the top factor driving a considered purchase is the ‘ability to see and touch a product’, according to 58% of respondents.

Top factors for shoppers

Despite being the most favoured strategy during the seasonal discounting period, price promotion was second, rated important by 56% of respondents. 

This was followed by ‘great advice’ rated important by 37% of respondents and then an effective product demonstration (28%). Meanwhile Covid concerns were lower down the list with one in four (25%) saying social distancing was now an important factor.

Gekko surveyed experiences across several key retail categories including: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. 

The purpose was to find out what influences shoppers in making a ‘considered purchase’ – purchases that are made with significant financial or emotional thought.

The survey shows there were key differences in age. Price promotion is actually the top factor for every age group until the +54 year olds when it starts diminishing in importance.

gekko Formula for retail success

Interestingly social distancing is a larger factor for 18-24 year olds with 37% rating this as important. This could be to do with vaccine hesitancy or less still being fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile the survey also reveals a majority of shoppers think most retailers haven’t adapted well to the pandemic in terms of the customer experience. 

The categories seen to have most adapted best to the pandemic are consumer electronics, 54%, followed by home improvement, 51%. 

These were the only categories a majority of consumers thought had adapted well or excellently. Worst performers were baby and child with just 29% of shoppers thinking they’d adapted well. 

Gaming was rated by just 31% of shoppers as having adapted well. 

In response Gekko is urging retailers to embrace an ‘experience-centric playbook’ to make up for lost time during the pandemic, engaging all the senses to bring back the theatre of retail.

Daniel Todaro, Gekko MD, said: “When it comes to physical retail and considered purchases, it is vital to engage all the senses and create a joined up marketing experience that is going to lead the customer to the checkout till. 

“Our research shows just how vital the ability to see, touch and engage with a product in a positive environment is a critical factor in considered purchase decisions. 

“This desire may well have come about or been heightened by the long lockdowns we have all experienced, increasing our desire to shop in person. The decline in online sales share back to 27% is indicative of this. 

“Price promotion is of course important but needs to be within the context of a wider customer engagement strategy. As the research shows, the role and approach of a knowledgeable sales advisor is also crucial.”

“To make the most of the opportunity, try to ensure the environment and setting complements the overall experience with, for example, good lighting, ambience and clearly visible price promotions. 

“Stand back, encourage play, and keep the conversation flowing using open questions. Learn through specific questions and examples about the customers’ needs and lifestyle changes. 

“This is the way physical retailers can ensure they can continue to win customers and offer a superb customer experience.”

What would be the most important factors to you in making a ‘considered purchase’ in store?

  • Ability to see and touch a product: 58%
  • Price promotion: 56%
  • Great advice: 37%
  • Effective product demonstration: 28%
  • Social distancing followed: 25%
  • A stylish store: 15%

Article originally published by MediaShotz

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

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The £15bn Question – Are You Still Investing In Instore Expertise?

With the Golden Quarter in full swing and the risk of another lockdown receding, it feels like physical retailers can finally focus on the future and doing what they do best. Namely serving the varied interests and needs of our nation of shoppers. While the terminals are processing payments, amidst the buzz of a seasonal discounting season, it may feel like we are back to 2019 normality. However, there is no escaping the pain that has occurred. 

According to research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) retailers lost some £22bn in lost in store revenue in 2020. Meanwhile the now (finally admitted to not be) temporary inflation spike, wage rises and supply chain challenges are further going to erode the potential for the sort of returns needed to get UK retailers fully back on track. Indeed the economic growth that has been so impressive this year will fall away to more palatable levels in 2023.

The financial cost of poor advice

Against this backdrop, there is new evidence some retailers are losing sight of one of the most crucial ways of keeping sales where they need them. Research we unveiled last week found that retailers missed out on billions in instore revenue in the past year due to poor in person advice in the ‘considered purchase’ space. These are purchases that are made with significant financial or emotional thought. 

The study of 2,000 consumers, conducted by OnePoll, looked at what influences shoppers in making a ‘considered purchase’. It revealed 1 in 10 shoppers said they had walked out of a shop due to poor advice relating to a product they were definitely going to buy. This equates to some £15bn in revenue overall over the past year. The experiences do vary across categories and age groups. The 1 in 10 figure was broadly consistent across several key retail categories including: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. 

Customer service first approach

Now this is not to say that all retailers are doing it wrong. Those with a real customer service first mentality are doing it amazingly well. Overall 59.8% said they had received ‘excellent or good advice in store’, highlighting the benefit of human interaction and face to face sales. But the point is in a world where profits are likely to be squeezed – these numbers matter. Slight improvements can make dramatic differences. Even if just 1 of the 10 shoppers in every 100 who are walking out dissatisfied could be persuaded to stay, this would mean £1.5bn pounds worth of sales would be saved. 

To put that into context that is more than Rishi Sunak has just announced in the Budget to encourage foreign investment into UK businesses and attract overseas talent!

Thirst for interaction

Every person that walks through the door should be viewed as a potential customer or an influencer. Someone who will talk about you positively following their experience and tell others in person, online or on social media and is not viewed as just another body to ‘deal’ with.

Indeed the £15bn could be a drop in the ocean of additional revenues that could be accrued with better advice. 37% of shoppers in the consumer electronics category revealed they would be prepared to spend more if they received excellent and knowledgeable in store advice, indicating a golden opportunity for retailers. This compared with 30% of shoppers in the home improvement category and 27% in homeware/ home furnishings and 21% in clothing and apparel. There is a clearly identified thirst for the interaction and expertise that has so been missed in the pandemic. 

‘Gen Said’ 

A common cause for concern among retailers is on the younger generations turning away from bricks and mortar. However there was encouraging news in the survey for this audience segment. Gen Z are most likely to seek out great advice in store (45%) versus an average of 38% and are more likely to find staff knowledgeable across categories. They are also the most likely out of all ages to appreciate product demos (39%) against a 29% average across all ages. 1 in 2 Gen Z’ers  (52%) and 38% of Millennials will spend more for a good experience in store across all categories – crucial for the development of experiential retail. 

This is good news for the future of bricks and mortar retail, but it doesn’t mean retailers don’t need to adapt. Our survey also shows that a joined up and seamless experience online and offline is also now expected. Older generations are also more likely to research online first. Brands already know the need to embrace experts and adapt to survive in a changing market, it’s now about making the investment to do so. 

There is no going back to a sort of idealised 2019 experience. We are all changed from the experiences we have gone through. Retailers need a modern, experience-centric playbook and at the heart of this needs to be the timeless appeal of the instore expert. When we look at the missing billions and the pressures on the bottom line, they have never been more needed.

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Field Marketing 

Article originally published by Retail Sector

Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels

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How Retailers Can Capitalise On Black Friday and Beyond

With Black Friday upon us, it is vital retailers now maximise the huge sales opportunities that exist. With money to spend, from savings accumulated over lockdown and no holidays, customers are getting ready to go for a bumper spending period up to Christmas.

After all, UK consumers are estimated to have saved around £200bn over the various lockdowns, while 54% of those savers are ready to spend it on Black Friday and Christmas according to a recent survey by Future plc. Furthermore, over 70% of customers suggest that they would have the same amount or more money to spend on Black Friday in 2021 as in 2020 (PPA). Combine this with store doors wide open, we look set for increased customer footfall and sales figures.

However it is important to strike a note of caution, as there are some warnings of issues that could dampen the mood this year. Further Pandemic related problems could arise of course, a fresh wave has broken out across Europe, along with truck driver shortages and global supply chain disruptions that may delay goods arriving to the UK over the next few weeks.

It is the second year in a row where such implications have been highlighted. It is becoming clear that consumers are hearing that call, a recent Ebay survey showed that 41% of shoppers will have aimed to have got their Christmas shopping done before December even begins, as opposed to just 25% last year. Therefore acting now to make the most of the opportunity on Black Friday is critical.

The traditional view of Black Friday is perhaps long queues outside shops and big price drops for retailers. While that has certainly changed during the pandemic, we must not dismiss the benefit of Black Friday’s appeal and hype to lure customers in store/online. Black Friday just needs to be treated a little differently.

Black Friday shouldn’t be simply about heavy discounting – consumers want to be satisfied with the shopping experience (online and instore) and the products they are buying. Last year we were denied physical sale shopping, and with Christmas shopping earlier than ever, retailers should be prepared to come armed with the right product information.

Training is vital for Christmas staff, as is continual reviews of ecommerce sites – to ensure a quality experience not just one based on price point. Price drops on their own will not sustain footfall – but quality, personalised experiences in store and online will.

Retailers should take note of the growth of Singles Day, the way the shopping experience has become a form of entertainment, where social media, ecommerce sites all build up excitement along with key social media influences via live streaming. In the UK, it can be tempting to slash prices on Black Friday or even in the lead up to it and let the price do the talking. But without clever marketing online or in store, relevant and engaging social media and ultimately a smooth online/in store experience – where staff know their products and stock the experience will not be as thrilling.

Customers like a bargain, it may get them over the door, but at a time when every customer matters, it’s important to build brand loyalty and get a repeat visit in the run up to Christmas. Retailers must be aware that while discounts are the foundation of Black Friday, it’s the excitement, marketing, brand experience and ultimately the store or online journey that will sway a customer from perusing to purchase. Once the customer is through the door, or on a retailer website – conversion becomes experience based.

As retailers ramp up their marketing efforts as we approach the peak of spending for the year, consumers are certainly going to have plenty of choice as to where to spend their budgets. Retailers will have to do all they can to make sure they stand out from the crowd. Engaging marketing, whether it be store representatives, training or merchandising activities, can ensure that the consumer knows who you are and why they should be choosing your products. Once that is achieved then loyalty and success will follow.

By Hannah Snoeck, Client Services Director, Gekko

Article originally published by BDaily

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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Know How Now

Now more than ever, enhancing the customer experience is critical to create theatre and ultimately close sales. In order to take the consumer through the varied steps of the journey from demo to sale, you need to equip your staff to be the best they can be – and it all starts with training. A key element of the formula for success in store is the engagement of shoppers 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 and motivated… and most importantly advocates.

The Pandemic’s Impact

The training of advocates is often down to brand-led initiatives, and while in the past these experiences were provided in person, the pandemic has forced new innovative methods like virtual training, with face-to-face communication not being possible. For example, this could include, developing or incorporating digital learning and engagement solutions from third parties or even those brands you sell. Working with your brands enables you to talk directly with their training teams to develop your Retail Sales Advisors, allowing them to choose when and how they learn, with tactics ranging from gamification to potential
incentives at no cost to you driving uptake. These digital solutions mean that brands are able to boost their reach, through training many more staff members and therefore having a wider impact. While visiting face-to-face enables greater engagement and brand advocacy – a hybrid model is still a fantastic way of doing business with retailers to help develop categories and brandshare. In some respects, 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.

Introducing ‘Tech-sperts’

While digital methods are helping to train more in-store experts at scale, the digital world can also be utilised to provide direct expert assistance to those making a considered purchase. Curry’s is one brand trying a new approach during the pandemic with the Shoplive service to assist sales. A pop-up 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 Curry’s experts. ShopLive now has over 800 ‘tech-sperts’, 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 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.

A Blended Approach

Despite the atypical nature of the past year, we have seen retail set up in response to the adversity. Namely a dynamic approach with some needed changes and digital transformation taking place that in the long run will 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 new uncertain, but exciting waters. Be creative. Be brave and try new ways to educate your teams to better meet the customer life cycle. The future of training and the manner in which we deliver this as a blended approach may be changing, however the need to continue evolving the knowledge base in both technical and soft skills is essential to meet the ever-changing needs of the CE industry and the customers you serve – who are ultimately the pulse of your business.

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Group

Article published by ERT

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

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Coming out of the pandemic – Five lessons from an SME in surviving a crisis

When the pandemic first hit, my thoughts were drawn to the here and now. This involved reforecasting and our cash flow, calculating how long the business could survive and employ staff without any income. However once the dust settled it made me realise there was never a better time to embrace new thinking and how necessity is the mother of all invention. The pandemic has forced new approaches and new ways of thinking that can improve how SMEs can do business. From how we engage with staff to our approach to business and people we work with, to the new products we are developing. I think there have been five ways we have mitigated the worst impact of the pandemic that are good lessons for other SMEs in similar situations.

Supporting staff

My key focus was employee support and motivation so whilst we agreed plans with brands, the workforce needed to be supported to deliver these. Lockdown put the nation under very odd circumstances, unique to everyone and all very personal. We therefore began the process of honest communications, support from a work and personal perspective to help develop coping mechanisms and create clear expectations of working patterns and priorities. We increased training, which ranged from soft skills learning and also included employee support curated with external practitioners in each field to assist the workforce as best we could. These initiatives looked to develop life skills delivered virtually for all staff, these included Coping with Covid sessions, Diversity, equity and inclusion discussions, Mental & Physical Health courses which evolved based on employee feedback, all supported by our weekly Fit for Gekko emails that gave useful information, tips and light hearted advice. As the bedrock of the business during uncertain times we needed to make sure they were looked after and could bounce back strongly when the good times returned. 

Develop new innovative services

Even with some restrictions eased at different points, it became impractical and less safe to send people in store to train staff so we moved at pace to pivot to develop new digital services for brands. This included a digital learning management system for retail sales teams. This is something we had been strategising for a while but the pandemic forced us to rapidly speed up the development. The upshot is we have been able to train many more staff than we would have and created a valued new service which will complement our instore activity. For one brand we have trained over 100,000 retail sales advisors virtually since March 2020 through a mix of live streams and one 2 one virtual sessions. It enabled us to increase our reach by 37%. In meeting the needs of the evolved channel, we have helped diversify our business offering. We also created multiple Engagement Portals for staff in areas ranging from virtual education, online expenses, employee management tools. We will continue to focus on increased investment in data and insight and training and employee engagement. 

Invest in insight and truly knowing your customer

With less live activity with clients, we invested in our Data and Insight team to develop our research market trends, economy and shopper habits. This was critical to support the brands we work with and equip our staff to understand the macro situation better and react. In gaining a better understanding of the state of the nation we created a shared understanding of the challenges ahead and how to overcome them. It has set us up in a good place to understand the challenges of the future and to remain more relevant for our partners and clients.

Cementing relationships in difficult time

Given the difficulties we have all faced, this period has been a perfect opportunity to really cement relationships with partners. We all faced the same challenges and it was a time to show loyalty. In some ways the pandemic provided the glue to bring us all closer. Sadly there have been many examples of businesses who have failed in this regard during this time. But my sense is that this will be remembered by customers and suppliers. Short term financial decisions could have long term implications for brands seen as not helping people during this time. Fortunately the majority of our client base were very supportive of our partnership. However with others I had to hold their feet to the fire a bit. It’s interesting to see how some global brands reacted to suppliers, not all were consistent with their ‘corporate values’ and as an SME you have to be brave and stand your corner. With a sustainable cash flow and supported staff we were able to begin the process of pivoting to meet the immediate needs and changes required to support our brands so that they could continue to operate in the channel and compete.

Never underestimate your staff

I remain optimistic for the future and if we can retain and grow our talent organically, complementing this with more flexible working patterns, I believe we can recover in the next two years to bounce back and exceed the 2019 results. I do think this whole period has speeded up innovative thinking, digital transformation and under the heat of the pressure encouraged agile and dynamic thinking such as the development of new products and services ensuring we serve the needs of clients. On a human level it has of course created an enormous amount of stress, pressure and tragedy for so many and we need to be mindful of staff’s mental health as we return to the office. But ultimately it has made me appreciate that you should never underestimate your staff. 

The hidden talents, resilience and ability to adapt were highlighted amongst the team with the vast majority adapting and delivering irrespective of the situation. It’s easy to see your staff as just ‘employees’ but they are more than that, they are the pulse which makes your business beat and adapt better than perhaps you may have wrongly imagined.

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Group

Article published by SME Business News

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

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Why the coming economic boom will be bigger than we think

The world has been turned upside down in the past 18 months, making predictions a tougher game than ever. Economists are used to using metrics like inflation, consumer spending or job markets to predict what would happen. In this new world of Covid, furlough and post-Brexit trade, traditional measures are becoming less relevant and many are now relying on micro-signals to tell us where we really are.

These are small signals that point to a wider picture or trend. Despite the bumps in the road to recovery, signs are certainly everywhere that consumer confidence is on the rise. My own micro-signal of where we are involves my daily jog, which traverses the famous Fullers Brewery in Chiswick which is now a hive of activity, with lorries now parked up queuing to be loaded with Fullers produce destined for the thousands of pubs, clubs and restaurants once again feeding and watering the nation.

The bumpy ride to recovery in 2021

The recent positive economic momentum has led Goldman Sachs to predict that the UK economy will grow by 7.8% in 2021. Back in March, the OECD had forecast UK growth of 5.1% this year. Despite new variant case numbers we have made it to the final stage of unlocking. The most encouraging aspect has to be the growth in the face of some still rather large challenges, not least many people still being forced to self isolate. This bodes well for 2022 which I now think will be the start of the delayed ‘roaring twenties’, following further bumps in the road for the rest of this year. After all, we’ve all earnt some good times.

Return to physical retail

Alongside my own micro-signal, the data on shop re-openings and peoples’ willingness to return to offices and High Streets is a fantastic indicator of consumer confidence. As restrictions are lifted, ONS data shows us that 87% of businesses are now trading again across the UK, the highest proportion since estimates began last June. Retail is the fastest current area of UK economic growth. Non-essential retailers drove much of the growth as they welcomed customers back into stores from April 12 in England and Wales.

Fashion retailers saw an astonishing boost of 69.4%. With the shift back to physical retail underway, further YouGov surveys found that being able to interact with products was the key reason for returning across every country that took part. In Britain, 42% say that it is the in-store experience that drives them to go to the physical high street. Despite the turmoil of the last year, peoples’ willingness to shop remains unabated and indeed the thirst for it has only returned. 

Entering a new phase after the exit wave

Throughout this difficult period Covid has shown itself to have an unwavering ability to confound our expectations and come back to bite us. So there shouldn’t be any complacency but a realisation we are now in a slow end game for the pandemic as a society-disrupting threat. In the UK about 90% of the adult population have had a first vaccination. Meanwhile 56% have now also had a second. While case numbers show a new wave is here,  we can look forward to ‘finally’ seeing the threat of the virus recede with booster jabs this Autumn. While Winter may be a challenging time for the NHS – we can finally look forward to a year free of the pandemic in 2022. This means we will see consumer confidence return even more strongly. 

The car industry back in the fastlane in 2022

In the last 18 months, the car industry has had to weather the uncertainty of Brexit and a global pandemic. Despite this sales have been increasing healthily. There is now the challenge of a potential global microchip shortage. What started as an inconvenience for those looking to buy a PS5, Xbox or TV has now made its way to the car industry – and a lack of chips means brands such as JLR, Renault and VW are planning temporary shutdowns at some plants. Once this issue is resolved we can expect a significant bounceback with car sales rising further into 2022 as supply issues are resolved. Forecaster LMC Automotive predicts the market will perform strongly in Europe with double-digit percentage growth with pre-pandemic levels recapture by 2023.

Supply chains will become smoother

After unprecedented disruption over the past year, global supply chains should start to work more efficiently into next year. It is not just about supply – it is also about logistics, import issues like Brexit and the shipping of goods. The disruption in the global container shipping industry has also been a factor this year – that could lead to shortages in the run-up to Christmas but should be resolved by 2022. Certainly the form filling that has been required as a result of Brexit has led to some disruption. As the situation begins to settle in the next year there should be a smoother experience and consumers should be able to receive goods faster.

So the economy has surpassed our best expectations. People have returned to retail in high numbers – one of the best indicators of rising consumer confidence. This is despite a series of really difficult challenges that remain from covid to supply chains. However these should be ironed out in 2022 meaning the best is yet to come.

The article was first published with Retail Sector

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Staying afloat in the storm of the century

The past year has seen many firms suffer – but small enterprises have proved surprisingly resilient. Daniel Todaro talks to Business Reporter about how Gekko has innovated to sidestep the pandemic potholes.

Small and medium-sized businesses have suffered grievously during the Covid pandemic. Lacking the depth of pocket, breadth of interests and extent of continuity planning of larger companies, many have had a torrid time, with owners often spending their own savings or taking second jobs just to keep the business afloat.

But smaller firms do have one invaluable advantage over larger rivals: agility. While the corporate CEO is straining at the helm of the oil tanker, the SME skipper can reset every sail and disappear over the horizon.

Even in the hardest-hit sectors, SMEs have found new routes to market, often online. Pre-Covid, field and retail marketing agency Gekko majored on training shop-floor staff, so lockdown was a hammer blow. CEO Daniel Todaro’s response was to go virtual.

“We moved at pace to pivot and develop new digital services, in­cluding a digital learning management system for retail sales teams. We’d been strategising this for a while, but the pandemic forced us to rapidly speed up de­velopment. The upshot is we’ve been able to train many more staff, and created a valued new service [to] complement our in-store ac­tivity. So in meeting the needs of the evolved channel, we’ve helped diversify our business offering.”

For the full article please visit Business Reporter (page 14)

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