Tag Archives: business

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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Carefully consider the customer in this new age of retail

As consumers were forced online, bringing back a sensory experience through a carefully considered customer journey, is where independent retail is amongst the best says Daniel Todaro from Gekko.

It’s been a tough few months for all retailers but we’re back and now more than ever the customer experience is the tool many retailers must be reaching for to recapture shoppers and remind them what they have missed.

Based on findings from the CBI, retail sales have risen above seasonal norms for the first time this year. The reopening of non-essential stores in England and Wales brought relief to the sector. April’s retail sales volumes were viewed as “good” for not only the first time this year but also since June 2018, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

After reopening on the 12th April, the early signs suggest that shoppers were particularly eager to visit fashion retailers, and on the day, spending on clothes was double the typical pre-pandemic level. Furthermore, the figures are stronger than when stores reopened after the first lockdown in 2020. The number of people shopping online in the past month fell for the second time in a row, and while it is still strong, the rate is half what it was at the height of the pandemic. The data points to a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to stores.

Retail will undoubtedly regain its mojo over the coming months and if as hoped we are out of complete restrictions this summer, it should rebound and take full opportunity as the burden of these rules no longer apply. It’s going to be different and it will no doubt continue to evolve but retail as one of the most dynamic industries, has always done this. It evolves to meet the expectations of generations, trends and attitudes. Brands and retailers must therefore work to create more experiences spread across a wider space to offer consumers an immersive experience that makes a customer buy from your store and continues to do so, wanting to visit again based on the experience received.

Since reopening we have already seen a 12% shift from online to the high street in the first two weeks. Whilst the growth will have added to the overall online retail space, consumers are increasingly bored of online shopping just as they are Zoom calls. For the entire nation, lockdowns forced us to shop online whether we liked to or not. If we wanted that thing for that purpose, customers had to go online and research, buy, deliver or collect and in many cases return it because it wasn’t right. Whilst this may have felt convenient for some, this meant that for many the sensory experience was immediately banished to a 2D experience and brown boxes dumped on our doorstep.

Human nature is to be stimulated through a sensory experience and even for those with no real passion for shopping, I suspect they have missed some of the pleasures that physical retail offers. In specific categories, this is enhanced more than others such as considered purchases in the MDA and CE categories. Sustainability is another factor many will be considering now that they have a choice. Our increased carbon footprint created by ordering items that have travelled several hundred miles will once again prick the consciousness of all of us as we look to increase our sustainability initiatives, not increase them with unnecessary additional miles and packaging.

We are gradually coming out of lockdown and consumers continue to be excited about it. Indeed over 85% of consumers from our latest retail survey results claimed that they have already taken advantage of physical shops being open to make purchases. They are emerging with a determined mind-set, using their newfound online skills to narrow down their options before heading to the store to browse and make the final purchase.

The retail environment is changing and has been particularly fluid over the past year. This data is critical to understanding the new trends that have emerged and forming (or re-forming) brand strategies. Insight from Kantar, online shopping fell in April for what was the second time in a row, and Springboard footfall data showed an increase of 88% week on week for the period that non-essential retail reopened after the 12th. All of this points to the fact that there are more shoppers out there than there have been for 14 months, so there is a chance here to connect with them while confidence is high and a (hopefully) high-spirited summer begins.

The online share of retail sales is decreasing, although the benchmark remains above the pre-pandemic figure, settling at about 36% in April vs 23% in 2020. This of course indicates the acceleration of a trend that has been growing for a while, but it does mostly remain product specific, and nothing will ever really replace the experiences that in store shopping can offer. The store should now become more of an experience hub as well as a purchase point. In-store marketing continues to have the power to not only increase actual sales, but also other key factors such as brand loyalty and even helping to drive social media interactions.

When it comes to consumer electronics and large appliances in particular, many consumers will always prefer to touch a product and hear about its benefits first hand rather than reading a specification sheet online. Hearing their input, from questions to reasons for purchase, can then be fed back directly to a brand, enabling them to react and stay ahead of the competition.

In this new age of retail, the smartest businesses will be the ones that can leverage the opportunity to reach consumers at every level relevant to them, and that is where effective brand experience and a carefully curated customer journey can step in to help exceed your customers’ expectations.

To read the full article please visit ERT Magazine.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

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A hybrid approach: Five retail innovations the pandemic has speeded up

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.

To read the full article please visit Bdaily.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

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How to benefit from the forthcoming massive wave of ad spend

The recent IPA Bellwether on marketing budgets in the UK has revealed that 2020 saw a fast paced decrease in spend as the effects of the pandemic naturally hit home. Now, as we continue to emerge from the worst of the effects, their forecasts are that there will be a net balance growth of 17.4% which would be the largest increase since 2018.

For the UK, this spend should total up to around £27bn for 2021, with another 7.2% growth predicted for 2022, so how will this be spent? It is clear that the main increases are predicted for Main Media Advertising (10.1%), Public Relations (7.4%), and Direct Marketing (6.8%). The cuts here are reserved for Events (-28.4%) which are still particularly struggling from Covid restrictions, but also Other Marketing (-5.4%) and Market Research (-4.95%).

For many, Main Media Advertising is a must for spend given the reach and benefits it can bring. However some of the other categories are, I believe, up for debate and it would be a mistake to purely dictate spending purely based on variable forecasts without acknowledging what exactly your priorities are and how best to connect with your consumer in order to garner their loyalty.

A new determined consumer mindset

We are gradually coming out of lockdown and consumers continue to be excited about it, indeed 88% of consumers from our latest retail survey results claimed that they have already taken advantage of physical shops being open to make purchases. They are emerging with a determined mind-set, using their new found online skills to narrow down their options before heading to the store to browse and make the final purchase. Now is the ideal time to have boots on the ground in retail areas rather than just generic PR pushes, helping them through their customer journey and promoting your brand to them.

The brand awareness required to engage this consumer can’t come out of Media Advertising or PR spend alone, other channels need to be utilised to ensure you are standing out in a sea of competition. Social media reach can help to a certain extent, however no amount of impressions will replicate getting face to face time with a shopper at the point of purchase. Importantly too, the data that comes from the physical interactions a person is able to provide can prove vital and brings incredibly valuable impact and insights in a short amount of time.

Footfall soars ahead of high-spirited summer

The retail environment is changing and has been particularly fluid over the past year, this data is critical to understanding the new trends that have emerged and forming (or re-forming) brand strategies. Insight from Kantar, online shopping fell in April for what was the second time in a row, and Springboard footfall data showed an increase of 88% week on week for the period that non-essential retail reopened after the 12th. All of this points to the fact that there are more shoppers out there than have been for 14 months, there is a chance here to connect with them while confidence is high and a (hopefully) high-spirited summer begins.

Online share of retail sales is decreasing, although the benchmark remains above the pre-pandemic figure, settling at about 36% in April vs 23% in 2020. This of course indicates the acceleration of a trend that has been growing for a while, but it does mostly remain product specific, and nothing will ever really replace the experiences that in store shopping can offer. The store now is becoming more of an experience hub as well as a purchase point. In-store marketing continues to have the power to not only increase actual sales, but also other key factors such as brand loyalty and even helping to drive social media interactions.

Staying ahead of the competition

When it comes to consumer electronics and large appliances in particular, many consumers will always prefer to touch a product and hear about its benefits first-hand rather than reading a specification sheet online. Hearing their input, from questions to reasons for purchase, can then be fed back directly to a brand, enabling them to react and stay ahead of the competition.

In this new age of retail, the smartest businesses will be the ones that can leverage ad spend across the board in order to reach consumers at every level relevant to them. Effective field marketing can step in to help exceed expectations.

To read the full article by Tom Harwood – Data and Insight Manager Gekko Group, please visit Retail Sector.

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Back to the future: Retailers need a new approach for winning customers

The easing of lockdown measures, although slow and steady, has come as a welcome relief for retailers. We can now work towards rebuilding through the eventual easing of all restrictions.

While the lockdowns have been long and painful, the appetite to return and shop in-store remains strong. But it would be naive to just act as though it was still 2020 in reopening and returning to the same plan. It is incumbent on retailers to recognise how consumers have changed their shopping behaviours.

Successful retailers have always understood the motivators and triggers for different customer groups and then offering an appropriate, tailored approach. This needs to be recognised and acted upon.

We recently took the temperature of the nation with a survey of changed shopping behaviours – with some interesting and encouraging results. The vast majority polled (70 per cent) revealed they were planning on visiting stores as much, or more than pre-pandemic. Only two per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t return to the high street. But digging into the detail we can start to see some distinct trends within this.

Localism remains strong

A new appreciation of localism has been one big factor that has brought our communities closer and changed perceptions that local perhaps meant less choice, as 35 per cent of respondents said they have purchased from a local or independent store that they would not have done pre-pandemic.

Meanwhile, the expectation might have been the very oldest might be the most loyal to the high street; interestingly, 35-44 year olds in our survey were the most loyal.

With the different factors motivating consumers to return to shops, 27 per cent of over-55s said the enjoyment of shopping was the thing they were looking forward to most. But this compared with only 15 per cent of under-55s. 81 per cent of respondents cited convenience as a key factor; this trend was most prominent in 18-24 year olds.

There is potential for physical retailers to target younger consumers with a focus on the unparalleled customer experience in-person shopping can achieve.

Flaws in online

Despite the huge choice online, the idea that consumer behaviour has been entirely different digitally was somewhat dispelled by the research. 49 per cent of respondents said they mainly shopped from the same stores online that they always used to visit offline.

But our research also really highlights the flaws in the online experience. A massive 58 per cent cited issues with ordering as a key disadvantage to online shopping. Interestingly, issues with orders was selected most prominently in people aged 34 and under.

Those most concerned by returns were 55-64 year olds in comparison with 18-24s who were least concerned. This highlights the different ways people have been brought up shopping. Given environmental issues are a concern to younger shoppers, we should perhaps emphasise more the fact physical retail can reduce a consumer’s carbon footprint.

A hybrid approach

Rather than just focusing on one channel now at the expense of another, if the pandemic has taught us anything it is the strength of having a hybrid omni-channel offering – being agile and flexible to respond to changing customer requirements.

Certainly consumers seem adept at mixing and matching their in-person and online shopping. For example, 38 per cent would use new online skills to research an item online and then buy it in-store, and over-65s are the most likely to do this (54 per cent).

This underscores the need for a joined up brand and retail experience. This is particularly the case with the considered purchase sector; as we came out of previous lockdowns, consumers have shown a willingness to ‘shop with purpose’ in- store for items they have researched online.

As we return to something akin to normality, it is clear just rolling out a 2019/2020 strategy won’t cut it. The desire for physical retail is there, but we need to understand people’s changed realities.

Retail is one of the most dynamic industries, and changing to meet the needs of consumers has been the hallmark of great retailers in the past and will be tomorrow. Let’s get back to the future.

To read the full article please visit ERT.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

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Five positive signposts on the road to retail recovery in 2021

The data presented in nightly news broadcasts is a strange hybrid of bad news and good news. Of course, we have the all too familiar grim updates on hospitalisations and deaths as a result of covid. But we also now have a counter-narrative – the numbers of people vaccinated who can look forward to a fear-free life again. We may be in the midst of a lockdown, but hope is not only on the horizon but in front of our eyes and shortly to be in our arms. The best of times and the worst of times.

Retailers are also facing a mixture of challenging and hopeful data. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) recently revealed sales growth overall falling by 0.3% in a year dominated by the Covid-19 impact – the worst annual change since the BRC began collating figures in 1995. Yet this is hardly surprising, with the Government forcing retailers to close. Unlike in the midst of other recessions, we can be confident an unprecedented bounce back is looming. A recent KPMG/Ipsos study points to a sales growth of up to 3% for 2021, despite the huge challenges in the first two quarters. Indeed there are several signals that point to a swift route to recovery in 2021.

Weathered and tested

The resilience of retail has been a remarkable success story of 2020 in the face of continuing huge challenges. Throughout the pandemic, retail has been written off only to bounce back whenever it has been allowed to trade. This is evidenced by the figures for lockdown two. According to the ONS, the headline figure for retail sales volumes in November during the second lockdown were 3.8% lower than in October, ending six months of growth. However, the drop was smaller than analysts had expected and, remarkably, sales remained 2.6% above February’s level in the year to November. This was all the more impressive given lockdown forced many shops to close during the month.

Throughout the past 12 months, retailers have had to adapt their trading at short notice, whether closing altogether or introducing a variety of safety measures and still enticing customers to spend. They have also needed to embrace new ways of trading, from click and collect to virtual shop floors to having sales experts in call centres rather than in person. This experience and ability to weather these storms and still attract customers mean retailers will be in much better shape when the good times return.

A shot in the arm for consumer confidence

Retail has always needed and relied on a confident consumer to sustain itself. You feel hopeful about the future and you are more likely to splash out. Over the past few months, we have had a perfect storm of negativity. Daily charts showing exponential infection and death rates highlighting the problem now, with no end in sight creating a feeling of hopelessness. This has created a mental health crisis to add to the immediate public health crisis. However, just as the confidence has been sapped by one thing – the coronavirus, so the cure can be the vaccine – a literal shot in the arm for consumer confidence. Of course, millions have been negatively financially impacted by the crisis, but due to the furlough scheme, many have been protected in a way that hasn’t happened in previous recessions.

Indeed this was the analysis by a KPMG/Ipsos retail think tank, which said retail should be able to look to a brighter second half of 2021. Pent-up savings, demand, a more confident consumer and a successful vaccine roll out all point to a strong rebound. However, it also points to some consumer behaviours changing during the pandemic, with performance varying across different categories.

Retailers have embraced an omnichannel strategy

The pandemic has speeded up the adoption of an omnichannel strategy for many retailers that was probably overdue. Dunelm is a good case in point. Despite huge challenges in its retail estate, the company’s investment in the online channel has paid dividends. Despite all of Dunelm’s 174 stores in Britain being closed to customers, the company expects pre-tax profit for the first half of its financial year to be about £122m, up 33.9% on the previous year. This is due to the investment in online and the trend for home furnishing during the pandemic. Similarly, Dixons Carphone Warehouse announced pre-tax profits of £45m for the six months to 31 October with online sales up 145%. Those brands that have a strong online presence have been able to trade successfully and will benefit even further when their physical stores re-open. Particularly given the next key signal.

Pent-up demand for physical retail experience

Despite online retail’s undoubted increase of the share of the cake, reports of the death of physical retail have been greatly exaggerated. After each lockdown, there has been huge pent-up demand in evidence whenever shops have been allowed to operate. This is despite uniquely off-putting circumstances for consumers to venture out. While we are in the midst of a third lockdown, we know from the end of the second one that footfall increased by nearly 20% as determined consumers returned to stores. With increasing numbers being vaccinated, we can expect an even stronger rebound this time. I am really confident we will see an unprecedented retail re-emergence when the impact of max vaccination is felt. Even retailers like Primark, which recently revealed a £300m hit to profits, remain bullish. As Jason Bason, finance chief of its parent company Associated Foods, pointed out, when its shops had been open sales were only down 14% despite the restrictions. After all, if people are still wanting to venture out during a pandemic, we can be guaranteed they will flock to stores when we have the vaccines rolled out and no longer have to be scared of strangers. People miss the retail experience.

Capitalising on the new trend of ‘shopping with purpose’

One real trend we have seen during the pandemic is ‘shopping with purpose’. This is consumers wanting to make fewer journeys out, but when they do, not returning empty-handed. Our own analysis for the last trading period, December showed really healthy growth in conversion rates of 51%. This was due to pent-up demand and people returning to stores with a real purpose to buy. Again, the result of lockdown is to make the return to retail all the more profitable – something that can give retailers something to look forward to as we focus on getting through this difficult time. This particularly applies to categories like consumer electronics with higher ticket items and people less willing to buy online. The pandemic has underscored we may be less willing to venture out, but when we do we want to make it count.

While we are in the middle of a really difficult period it may be difficult to keep optimistic, but as we approach the end game of this crisis we can be sure that the public will want to celebrate their new-found freedoms. Retailers that have adopted the right strategies can benefit when good times return.

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

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Brands Don’t Lose That Human Touch – Time to Get Creative

Brand ‘touchpoints’ are increasingly becoming digital, rather than physical, in a world of social distancing. With physical retail in a cycle of lockdowns and people subject to ongoing restrictions, the world of browsing and the art of touch are becoming lost – a necessity of social distancing and hygiene measures. But this key ‘human’ sense influencing purchase simply can’t be replicated in the information-led, online realm.

Luxury brands immerse a consumer in plush carpets underfoot, theatrical lighting in opulent surroundings in glamorous locations complete with the meticulous attention of an expert who has your undivided attention, making you immediately feel the brand is worth it. But with all of these luxury stores having faced periods of closure, we have seen a large reduction in footfall across major cities globally. The ability to capture the essence of the brand online is compromised. The case in point is Burberry who is perhaps a brand more advanced in e-commerce approach to high-end retail. However, the company saw a decline in profits of an estimated 80% coming in at £42m for the six months to September. Other luxury brands are not immune either, with Mulberry reporting a 29% decline in revenue for the first half of the year, due to store closures.

So how can brands fill the void that perhaps we all took for granted and relied so heavily upon? The role of other ‘touchpoints’ becomes even more vital in creating a customer journey that captures the consumer imagination and creates intrigue in the brand to explore more and make a considered purchase.

The new nature of shopping

When retail opened after lockdown one, we at Gekko uncovered a trend that consumers, starved of retail, were returning back to store and shopping with purpose. The journey was necessary and, on arrival, the budget in mind was set and the expectation to part with money was resolute and implied. We looked at all of our return-to-store campaigns across the considered purchase CE sector, focused on 6 distinct categories of Computing, Mobile, White Goods, TV, Smart Home & Wearables, and measured them week on week. The result was that we saw an increase of 28% in conversion rate from demo to sale and 22% in the average basket value.

Now, the increases can be attributed to consumer behavior but also significantly to the assisted sale element of the customer journey that facilitates the sale. The socially distanced engagement remained personal to the shopper and the ability to ask questions was imperative in not only cloning that sale but also increasing the consumers’ spend.

The best strategy and playbook in this new world to maximize the other senses to really sell a brand’s quality are a challenge. We must, therefore, meet the need to make traditional retail a destination worth a consumer’s time and safety.

The voice

Key to this is voice: A trained sales advisor, who can extol the virtues of a product and close a sale even if this is over the phone with outlets locked down or in person with a shopper making a ‘purpose-driven’ shopping visit. To engage the advisor in training, brands and retailers must adhere to covid-secure protocols, so the approach also needs to be reimagined. By keeping it succinct and energetic, and not like training but more a story with several chapters, some yet to be written but lined up to create excitement. By taking it virtual you can still be engaging if you follow the same approach and have the same energy as being in the same room – as if it’s still personal. Online, it’s a harder sell but call it engagement rather than training and it can become more creative. Gamify the process and link it to rich online content from your website, also advertising campaigns and events.

Product knowledge and brand advocacy amongst retail sales staff are crucial components to success in retail. It starts with effective product launches and is something that traditionally relies on face-to-face engagement and hands-on time with new products. Again, the lockdown has forced us all to think differently about the approach. A virtual approach can enable brands to create genuine excitement for new product launches, engaging retail sales staff and cascading knowledge and know-how to them, again making them more effective in their shopper conversations.

Don’t lose your touch

Touch: Displays of action and demo devices demarcated or constantly wiped down more often than they would probably do if in your possession as your own device. Keep it straightforward and clean. Stand back, encourage play, and keep the conversation flowing using open questions. Learn through specific questions and examples about the customers’ usage habits, likes and dislikes about their current device, and link to features you know are relevant to the user.

When it comes to effectively demonstrating products to shoppers, creative thinking can pay dividends. With some of the limitations indicated above, brands can take the initiative and facilitate the demo experience. Think creatively! Another initiative we implemented was taking the demo to the store and controlling the experience whilst on site. The brand was able to tell the story in their own distinct voice.

Leave a lasting memory

Finally, think about the memory that consumers will be left with. Poor knowledge and advice – when asked for – and an ill-thought-out display will create a negative lasting impression. Missing product information, price tickets, and the devices not being demo-ready will all provide a bad customer experience. The decision to purchase should create a smooth transaction for the customers and, if not in stock, it shouldn’t be a problem. The retail sales advisor should be able to order it online enabling the customer to click and collect or have it delivered. If in stock, the customer should be looked after through to the point of transaction and be on hand to answer any question on set-up and integration of the new device further validating their purchasing choice.

The positive engagement with a brand ambassador or retail sales advisor is the game-changer that increases conversion rate and average basket value, achieved either through a higher purchase price or connection sale and, perhaps, an advocate of both brand and retailer. This is much harder to achieve online and never as gratifying for the end-user as a customer journey that enhanced the individual’s perception of the brand, and worth in relation to their own very personal budget.

As a brand, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what you aspire to achieve, and redouble your efforts. Use this personal approach to enhance the customer journey, engaging in the most effective manner possible with your target consumers. This begins with training that grabs the imagination. Explain creatively how to tell a personal story on the shop floor, that envelopes the consumer, enough to become a customer through informed choice and not merely through distress or promotion. In a world of reduced physical contact, we need to think creatively to ensure brands stay in touch with the needs of their customers.

To read the full article please visit Branding Mag.

The photo that accompanies this article is by Sam Lion from Pexels

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