Tag Archives: Gekko

How retailers can tap into Edtech

PCR Blog

The UK is leading the adoption of digital technology in education with schools allocated an estimated £900 million in funding from the Department of Education for 2019-20 for Edtech, according of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In physical terms this equates to 3,392,100 computers in classrooms across the UK with an average primary school having 70 computers and secondary school an average of 431.

There are currently 32,113 schools in the UK. Of these, 20,925 are primary schools and 4,168 are secondary schools. There are 2,381 independent schools, 1,256 special schools and 351 pupil referral units.

The opportunity to expand Edtech sales are obvious for those who know how to tap into this growing market that values accessible technology to equip young minds for a successful ‘digital’ future.

There are also benefits for already stretched schools to help bridge the gap through Edtech – as it’s proven to reduce teacher workload, boost student outcomes and help create a level playing field for those requiring learning support. So much so that the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out plans in April this year to support innovation and raise the bar in education establishments across England, backed by £10 million injection.

School funding per pupil is expected to be frozen in real terms between 2017-2018 and 2019-20 albeit at a level of above 4%, reports IFS.

Technology in education allows some students to open up channels of communication and makes learning accessible to all. The target audience is not exclusively schools that have the budget to grow Edtech, it’s also parents, as many public secondary schools employ a BYOD program, therefore parents are expected to buy their child a suitable device. However, this is becoming stricter as previously it was an “any device will do”, approach but due to different devices having different capacities and capabilities, this has changed. Today, school book lists stipulate the minimum requirements for a device to create a more uniform and compatible ecosystem that is hassle free for all.

The retail market for back-to-school is worth, in all categories, some £1.45bn in the UK and is an increasingly important fixture in the retail calendar, becoming competitive for both brands and retailers endeavouring to appeal, in particular, to those students heading off to university.

From PC to projection and display technology such as Jamboard from Google and BenQ, the classroom is a place where technology is the norm, and the standard for students as they transition through their education and eventually into the workplace.

It’s not just about the hardware and software solutions, it’s also about the teachers who need professional development and training to understand how each device could work and how they can add them into their lesson plans. Figures from BETT highlight that 74% (rising from 60% in 2018) of educators surveyed said that educational technology is often not sufficiently easy to use for ordinary teachers. Something that vendors need to be considering as part of their proposition.

The classroom of old is no longer the norm. Education, at all levels, relies heavily on technology and some brands recognise this. Those brands that offer the end-to-end solution that enables education access to the best technology with the easiest interface, least maintenance and highest reliability will capitalise on this growing market.

Chromebook by Google is one of these, Google shared in January 2019 that 30 million Chromebooks are now used in education, up five million from the last reported figures in 2018. Growth has been aided by education systems from around the world choosing to use Chrome OS devices and G Suite cloud based computing solutions that enable collaborative learning accessible whenever you need it. In London the brand has worked with London Grid for Learning to help over 90% of schools across the city bring technology to more students by offering free training in Google Classroom, G Suite and other tools to help improve the digital skills of teachers.

Similarly, Epson has identified that 58% of students cannot read all content on a 70-inch flat panel. Epson’s interactive display solutions provide scalable image size. Having the right sized image for a room can make a huge difference to levels of concentration, enjoyment and understanding.

The DFE in April 2019 published a white paper entitled “Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry”. This white paper identified 10 challenges for the industry to assist in eradicating within education, quoting: “To catalyse change in the use of technology across the English education system, we are launching a series of Edtech challenges. They are designed to support a partnership between the Edtech industry and the education sector to ensure product development and testing is focused on the needs of the education system. The challenges are to the industry and the education sector (including academia) to prove what is possible and to inform the future use of Edtech across our education system.”

THESE CHALLENGES ARE:
• Challenge 1: “Improve parental engagement and communication, whilst cutting related teacher workload by up to five hours per term.”
• Challenge 2: “Show how technology can facilitate part-time and flexible working patterns in schools and colleges, including through the use of time-tabling tools.”
• Challenge 3: “Cut teacher time spent preparing, marking and analysing in-class assessments and homework by two hours per week or more.”
• Challenge 4: “Show that technology can reduce teacher time spent on essay marking for mock GCSE exams by at least 20%.”
• Challenge 5: “Identify how anti-cheating software can be developed and improved to help tackle the problem of essay mills.”
• Challenge 6: “Challenge the research community to identify the best technology that is proven to help level the playing field for learners.”
• Challenge 7: “Demonstrate how technology can support schools and teachers to diagnose their development needs and to support more flexible CPD.”
• Challenge 8: “Prove that the use of home learning early years’ apps (both those aimed at parents and those aimed at children) contributes to improved literacy and communication skills for disadvantaged children.”
• Challenge 9: “Widen accessibility and improve delivery of online basic skills training for adults.”
• Challenge 10: “Demonstrate how artificial intelligence can support the effective delivery of online learning and training for adults.”

Whilst the 10 challenges may not apply to all, it enables positive opportunities for all to develop the channel in Edtech initiatives.

Interestingly the DofE chose to release this white paper after the 2019 BETT show, the world largest Edtech event that brings together over 850 Edtech companies and attracting more than 34,000 attendees. I suspect this may lead the conversation at BETT in 2020.

To read the full article please visit PCR.

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Disruption will lead to innovation in our high streets

The Drum Blog

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced in May 2019 that a new £62 million fund will breathe new life into historic high streets across the country. Really? What’s £62m going to do? Unless there’s a momentous shift by Government regarding the business rate issue no £62m fund is going to fix anything or impact the dire straits we find our high streets in.

But here’s the conundrum. Across the country, people still enjoy going shopping. Shops are not going to disappear and 89 percent of UK sales are still generated through physical retail.

Consumers want high streets and businesses want to be there. We can’t give up on our high streets, but we need to fundamentally disrupt the existing model with ideas that address business rate costs head on.

Reigniting imagination on the high street

We need traditional brick and mortar retailers to be imaginative and visionary to make retail work for them and their customers. We haven’t seen enough of this. There’s been some successes where traditional retail chains have introduced successful in-store experiences, from speaker spaces to free cookery classes, to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere.

We’ve also seen successful buy outs where we see anchor brands amalgamate multiple brands under one roof such as Sainsbury’s and Argos (Store within a Store concept – SiS). This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.

Brand collaborations appear to work well, and this is where I think independent retailers need to deploy more disruptive strategies. Surely independents sharing space makes sense from a financial and marketing perspective and works for all collaborations, whether it’s an anchor brand and SiS or two brands in equal partnership.

Let’s take my local high street, where there is a bookshop with a coffee shop, and this unsurprisingly works well. So why don’t we see such partnerships more often with, say, independent clothes and shoe shops hooking up, cook shops and delis collaborating and complimenting one another and butcher’s, bakeries, greengrocers and florists joining up.

With so many consumers now on a personal quest to do what’s good for the planet, collaborations can really work to bring purpose to the fore and give consumers more choice.

The rise of the ethical high street

For people who are ethically minded, they may prefer to visit collaborations that have similarly aligned values for example, butchers, delis and bakeries that are fully ethically sourced or organic or shoe and clothes shops that won’t use unethical material. Delivering a positive, convenient and alternative shopping experience for people for whom these things are a driving factor in their purchasing decisions will provide an incredible customer service and experience that’s missing right now.

I’ve been in the industry over twenty years so I’m not naive enough to think this is easy, but retail is the most dynamic of industries and it needs to do something before it loses its confidence and high streets forever. I believe it requires a major re-think of the whole supply chain from landlords to legal and introducing new innovations like retail matching services. A service that pairs up independent retailers who are looking for high street shop spaces in particular areas.

There are all sorts of challenges – what happens if one brand is doing well, and the other isn’t, if one wants to sell and one doesn’t? But we’re at an impasse where something drastic needs to happen for us to re-imagine the high street. And drastic means disruption and innovation not more of the same.

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

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Innovation in our high streets is a continuous journey

Business Blog

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced in May 2019 that a new £62m fund will breathe new life into historic high streets across the country. High streets lie at the heart of communities but as we know, are under increasing pressure as more people choose to shop online, visit out of town stores and business rates and rents escalate. But are the high streets dying or are they just going through a period of evolution to meet the generational shifts in shopping habits and remain relevant?

Let’s not forget one very important thing, that across the country, people still enjoy going shopping, shops are not going to disappear and 89% of UK sales are still generated through physical retail. The problem is that many brick and mortar retailers have either not listened or been too slow to react to the changing social and economic factors that have impacted their business models.

To believe that your exact same format which has been successful for decades remains relevant today as it did then, is wrong. Millennials are bored with the same format and Generation X and Z are not ignorant to poor retail.

A belligerent approach only serves to insult your existing and potential customers. That’s why they’ve abandoned trusted retailers and by doing so, they are clearly stating that it’s you not them that’s the problem. This has resulted in a flurry of panicked shop closures, as retailers wake up to the fact that they should have reviewed their estates years ago before calling in the administrators.

So, alongside this and any other Government initiative we need traditional brick and mortar retailers to be imaginative and visionary to make retail work for them and their customers. And I don’t think we’ve seen enough of this. There’s been some successes where traditional retail chains and independents have introduced successful in-store experiences such as speaker spaces to free cookery classes to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere.

We’ve also seen successful buy outs where we see anchor brands amalgamate multiple brands under one roof such as Sainsbury’s and Argos (Store within a Store concept – SiS). This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.

The above concept appears to work, and this is where I think retail strategies need to be disruptive. As the pioneer of mail order fashion, reimagining retail seems to come easy for Next who have successfully evolved its physical presence with the inclusion of SiS concepts in selected stores. If we look at their flagship store on London’s Oxford Street it includes brands such as Lipsy, Paperchase, Henna and Costa and Mamas & Papas in its Bristol Cribbs Causeway store.

Surely independents and chains sharing space makes sense from a financial and marketing perspective and works for all collaborations, whether it’s an anchor brand and SiS or two brands in equal partnership. Let’s take my local high street, where there is a bookshop with a coffee shop and this unsurprisingly works well. So why don’t we see such partnerships more often with, say, independent clothes and shoe shops hooking up or cook shops and delis collaborating and complimenting one another.

I’ve been in the industry over twenty years so I’m not naive enough to think this is easy but retail is the most dynamic of industries and is tough. It requires a major re-think of the whole supply chain from landlords to legal and introducing new innovations like retail matching services. There are all sorts of challenges – what happens if one brand is doing well, and the other isn’t, if one wants to sell and one doesn’t? But we’re at an impasse where something drastic needs to happen for us to re-imagine the high street. And drastic means disruption and innovation.

With a staggering 2,481 stores disappearing off the High Street in 2018, the opportunity to split the overheads in tough economic times impacted by changing shopping habits, this is a successful combination for both retailer and shopper. For retail, appealing to all generations is the way forward, enhancing the environment in which we want to shop in and the customer journey association to brands. Retailers need to stop feeling their way in the dark. The solution is there. Look around.

To read the full article please visit London Loves Business.

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Wearables for all: How the decade’s most hyped technology has found its groove

PCR Blog

There was much talk of wearable technology in the early part of this decade and in what can only be described as a media frenzy. Google launched its hotly awaited Google Glass in 2012. It was everywhere, Diane von Furstenberg used the product on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, while Virgin Atlantic tied up with the brand for flight crew to check in passengers on selected trans-Atlantic flights. Whilst available to a selected group of subscribers, it unfortunately never made the shelves but set the pace as the pioneer.

The sale of smartwatches and trackers such as the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex accelerated in 2013 and things started to evolve rapidly. Then in 2015 we saw the launch of the first Apple Watch. While there has been commentary on the demise of the whole category with Jawbone already defunct, smartwatches are still the only product where we’ve seen continued sales and enhanced innovation, with luxury brands like TAG Heuer launching a range of Google Wear OS devices. According to Statista, global wearable technology sales in 2018 were 123 million units, with trackers making up 15 million and smartwatches 80 million. Watches are still growing faster than any other category and forecasted by CCS Insight to reach 142 million units worldwide in 2019 and a staggering 260 million units by 2023.

There’s little doubt we’ve come to a point where the market is less about the consumer tech and gadgets that we might see in store and rather more about the application of wearable technology – driven by trackers and smartwatches – into other fields such as health and wellbeing that are having a real and valuable impact on people’s lives.

Wearables are evolving. Motiv’s smart ring won Breakout of the Year at the Wearable Tech Awards 2018, but the jury is still out on its success. Looking at the exhibitors at 2019’s Wearable Technology Show, it indicates that there’s more than just smartwatches, but many innovations are being driven by health and wellbeing.

Looking at the impact automated insulin delivery has on patients and parents of children with severe diabetes, WELT is well documented and was one of the most talked about pieces of tech from CES 19. The new SMART belt from Samsung, launched at IFA 2018, can help tackle one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century, rising obesity. The belt can monitor weight, walking speed, sitting duration and eating habits. Another interesting application of wearable tech is Quell 2.0. This over the device wearable from Neurometrix uses advanced neurotechnology to stimulate sensor nerves sending neural pulses to the brain and blocking pain signals. The device is designed to block multiple types and sources of pain.

Innovation in wearable technology is as big as manufacturers dare it to be and wearable tech used today has evolved to be practical and convenient to make our daily lives more efficient. For resellers it’s interesting to note that it’s claimed that one in ten wearable owners have two or more devices, with those who don’t currently own a wearable stating that they are in the market for one. Research shows that fitness devices and smartwatches are equally wanted to aid in health, detect calorie intake, assess overall fitness and provide stress measurements.

Advances in nanotechnology, batteries and microprocessors have meant the devices can be small and lightweight. It therefore looks to me like the future of wearable tech is in the sublime not the ridiculous. Tech companies that succeed will be the ones that understand consumer behaviour and are solving real world customer needs or problems, rather than just focusing on ‘what’s possible’. Linked to real time data and tapping into human needs, its potential now does seem potentially revolutionary, with applications in health being a particular game-changer for the wearables category.

This decade’s most hyped of technologies has found its groove, enabling not just athletes to monitor wellbeing and lifestyle but for all manner of consumers and in a variety of exciting form factors.

To read the full article please visit PCR.

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Retail Renaissance

ipm blogs

The high street is dying, that’s what we keep hearing from all angles of the media but is it?

No, its evolving to meet the needs of generational shifts in shopping habits which retailers must adapt to in order to give consumers a desirable experience. Those that respond positively to shoppers and adapt, appreciate the increased value this change offers for potential survival. Retail is no longer there to serve the customer, it’s the customer who decides if retailers remain relevant to the high street.

Those retailers that refuse to listen are deserving of their fate. It’s not a surprise or the fault of external factors when a major retailer, who failed to adapt, calls in the administrators. Social and economic factors are not going to ‘improve’ as they are proving to be the norm, it’s just how life is now, therefore boards of major retailers need to stop procrastinating and adapt fast. With 89% of UK sales still generated through physical retail, the desire to shop on the High Street is still prevalent, retailers need to adapt creatively to capture a slice of those sales.

To believe that your exact same format which has been successful for decades remains relevant today as it did then, is wrong. Millennials are bored with the same format and Generation X, Z or Alpha are not ignorant to poor retail. This belligerent approach only serves to insult your existing and potential customers. That’s why they’ve abandoned trusted retailers and by doing so, they are clearly stating that it’s you not them that’s the problem.

From traditional retail chains to independents and pop up stores, the ones that ‘get it’ are doing so to great effect. Whether it be through introducing speaker spaces within the store, to conducting free classes or work zones to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere. By also introducing other brands to coexist alongside your brand, is winning hearts and minds. Retail is changing. Changing positively but perhaps not fast enough to decrease the failures of trusted retail brands and reduce the vacant units on our high streets.

Debenhams tried this by introducing Patisserie Valerie cafes within their stores which proved fatal for both brands, partly due to their incompetence to manage their finances or understand the consumer. You don’t ‘accidentally’ misplace £40m neither do you introduce a traditional patisserie into an already stale retail format such as Debenhams, in an attempt to entice new and younger shoppers. The opportunity to revive its fortunes could be taken from its past when it introduced designer names to its stable with huge success. Those designers are now only known by a generation who are 40+ and irrelevant to the shoppers needed to keep the Debenhams brand relevant on today’s high street.

With Arcadia group also struggling reputationally through the alleged actions of its high profile owner and also financially, they have a huge task ahead to transform. Reducing your retail footprint by closing stores to cut costs is not the solution, change is. But is it too late to turn some of Arcadias brands around, maybe not? The larger ‘flagship’ TopShop stores do it well by adopting shared spaces that offer consumers other brands or services like piercing or cosmetics to create an immersive shopping experience. Unfortunately, Topshop don’t seem to translate this successful format as well across the regions in the UK. Translating this ‘experience’ model across the entire estate is essential to relate to consumers who don’t necessarily have the means or desire to travel to a ‘flagship’ store. Placing short term profit over evolution is short-sighted as this approach is somewhat ironic, a lack of investment makes you stale rather than revolutionary, making a brand irrelevant to today’s shopper.

Those retailers who are winning have amalgamated, rather successfully, multiple brands under one roof that complement each other and often work in concert, to offer convenience for the shopper. Successful examples include the Argos purchase by Sainsbury’s and introducing Argos shop in shop (SiS) within larger Sainsbury formats and in 11 stores to include the desirable Habitat brand, which was snapped up by Argos several years back and now revived through the Sainsbury’s acquisition. This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.

As the pioneer of mail order fashion, re-imagining retail seems to come easy for Next who have successfully evolved its physical presence with the inclusion of SiS concepts in selected stores. Brands such as Lipsy, Paperchase, Henna and Costa can be found in the Next Oxford Street store and Mamas & Papas in its Bristol Cribbs Causeway store. Unsurprisingly this approach works for both anchor brand and SiS. With a staggering 2,481 stores disappearing off the High Street in 2018, the opportunity to split the overheads in tough economic times impacted by changing shopping habits, this is a successful combination for both retailer and shopper.

Those who complain that they can’t make retail work need look no further than their competition who are getting it right through understanding the zeitgeist. Shopping habits have changed with generational shifts and the glory days many failing retailers harp on about are not going to make a reappearance. It’s up to retailers to carve out a niche and appeal to the generations who now prefer both the physical and online aspects of retail, but are also seeking convenience and above all an experience.

Experience to try, taste, smell, learn, question, dwell to be part of something that transcends generations and the stereotypes of what ‘Retail’ should be. Retail can be whatever you want it to be.

Successful retail evolves to remain current and relevant to its audience. A retail renaissance is what we need.

To read the full article please visit ipm Bitesize

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Can the new tranche of Chinese tech brands take the UK by storm?

drum blog

In recent years, more Chinese brands than ever have broken new ground in Europe and continued to develop outside of their established Asian markets. One of the most immediately recognisable Chinese brands is Huawei and possibly Hisense but have you heard of Haier, Oppo or Xiaomi? Chinese consumer electronics brands have recently launched in the UK and are fast gaining traction in their respective categories since being made available on the UK high street.

We live in a society where global brands are the norm. Whilst we are, or at least believe we are, familiar with many of the brands we are exposed to, there are others that we don’t know so much about even if we buy-into them as consumers. Do we care about a brand’s origins and heritage? Or are consumer purchase decisions driven by a products’ look, functionality, usage, price point and status? If this new tranche of Chinese tech brands doesn’t focus enough on building their brands and resonance with the UK audience, will they be able to compete with their Californian cousins and achieve their full potential in the UK market?

Cleverly Haier, the world’s number one major appliance brand in terms of volume bought Hoover Candy, a traditional stalwart of the Major Domestic Appliance market in the EU which enables Haier to tap into the trust associated with a familiar European brand. Now listed in John Lewis stores, there’s brand reassurance of Haier is being established among shoppers.

Oppo, China’s leading 4G smartphone manufacturer, launched its range of mobile phones into Dixons Carphone earlier this year. With flagship models coming in at under £800 SIM free, the brand offers premium and innovative features at a fraction of the price other brands may charge. Time will tell if the brand has done enough to resonate and take a big enough market share and see a return on investment on their ICC Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon sponsorship.

Xiaomi, pronounced ‘ShwowMee’, is actually the world’s most valuable privately held company, and the third biggest smartphone maker, selling 61 million handsets last year. Xiaomi has been bold with its UK launch strategy and has opened a great new Mi store at Westfield White City. The store is familiar looking, sharing many similarities, all be it on a smaller budget, to that of its Californian cousins.

It sells a variety of products from mobile phones, TVs, smart kettles, electric scooters and other accessories in an environment where you are encouraged to play and explore. Its pricing is competitive and it’s certainly within the budgets of a far wider demographic than other brands but what it lacks is star quality. Star quality on build, packaging and its ability to give consumers that ‘feel good’ factor from an anonymous brand is essential if it’s to mean more to consumers. All possible if its proud heritage and brand storytelling was more obvious.

Tell me what Mi means to the technology industry and I may be persuaded to purchase some of today’s most competitively priced technology and become a brand advocate. Hide from me what Mi is and I may react a bit more suspiciously and feel the brand isn’t the best fit for me. Brands, wherever they are from, should be proud of their heritage and success. A confident, honest and ethical brand will help instil the necessary confidence in consumers to help a brand to gain traction and ‘win’ in a new market.

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

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Making a show of yourself

ert blog

The most successful of retailers that continue to occupy the high streets and retail parks of this great shopping nation do so because they have adapted. Adapted to provide the consumer, of all generations, with an experience that resonates with them. Now I’m not suggesting that this is some magical panacea or that they have discovered the proverbial fountain of retail youth but what they did do successfully is see into the future. An uncertain future in retail has been a dark shadow for several years now, so how did those who failed not get the message and adapt? And let’s face it, we all know that stores that are left bereft of investment do not create a positive experience for consumers.

So who does do experience well? Lush, who have just abandoned social media, knows what it takes to create the theatre and experience needed to entice the shoppers who will undoubtedly spend in their stores. Its ambience is an extension of the brand voice and its interactive nature immerses the consumer in the brand and its products which works irrespective of whether they are familiar with the brand. Its latest store opened in Liverpool last month and is circa 1,380 sqm. the biggest Lush in the World where ‘every detail has been carefully considered to create a fully immersive brand experience’. Some might say that’s bold and brave in the current climate, but I’d suggest it’s a move from a brand confident in its own ability to ‘retail well’.  Because above all the experiential hype, it’s the employees that create the true experience for Lush, something Debenhams perhaps forgot to acknowledge, so busy were they trying to keep the wolf from the door.

Experiential at the point of purchase is nothing without the support of well trained staff to carry the consumer through the journey and ultimately close the sale. The retailers who get this, win. They win by retaining motivated staff who feel valued and customers who having enjoyed the experience may well return in the near future or at the very least refer the retailer through recommendation.

On a recent shopping expedition with my Generation Alpha (under 9) son and daughter I sought to buy my son trainers. The displays were impactful and easy to navigate to what my son wanted but above all, it was the staff. An early 20s Generation Z shop assistant who spoke ‘indirectly’ to my son through his actions suggesting colours and designs. Disaster struck and the trainers my son wanted were not available in his size. Immediately considering another retailer or even going online, the sales assistant jumped in with “you can order these now on line from the store, pay for them here and have them delivered to your home for free”. Without hesitation, I said yes. We walked away all winners enjoying the experience, my son getting his trainers, the store not losing out on a sale and the sales assistant earning the kudos of the sale in his name. That’s omnichannel retailing in its purest form for you. How often has that happened to you?

No matter what you sell or who you believe your target market to be, the experience within your store will either make or break you. Think high end retail, are you kept waiting to be served? Are you unimpressed by the displays, the staging, the cleanliness or the ambience? I suspect the answer to all this is a resounding no. It is therefore unlikely that these stores succeed purely on their brand equity alone and before you all start saying that they can afford to do it, so can every retailer within their budget. At all levels of retail, the ability to create an experience that is worthy of your attention by consumers to entice them to spend is within your capability and budget of a retailers’ imagination and bravery.

For the retailers that succeed, they do so because they consider the experience it offers your customers. Is it engaging? Is it visually appealing? Does it speak to many of the few? Does your staff know how to bring this to life as a sales tool and succeed?

Consider John Lewis, a stalwart in British retail that if you were to base its appeal on its longevity should have failed by now. Having most recently invested £33 million in its new Westfield White City store, it also did it differently. The layout, the decor, the feel and more importantly the staff. Partners, as they are known in John Lewis, are attentive, knowledgeable and in abundance. The store’s secret is its appeal to those with disposable income and to those who aspire to shop there. It enables consumers to linger and take up as much of a Partners time to ask questions and explore a product. It works because they understand not only their audience but also the importance of never underestimating the worth of the shopper.

In hard economic times retailers and brands have to work harder to appeal to an individual’s tastes, requirements and above all budget. When failed retailers pretend not to know why they failed, they are not being honest. They failed to create an experience that appealed to a wide audience and their staff by not engaging with them positively to be the best they can. Ignorance is bliss for directors who don’t shop in their own stores.

The experience within any retailer is borne through your staff and the ability for staff to be brand advocates first and sales assistants second. Make the consumer feel special and they will listen. Keep the consumer informed and they will feel listened to. Keep the consumer engaged and they will shop.

To read the full article please visit ERT.

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Brand collaboration is the key to a high street retail revival

The Drum Blog

The high street is dying, or so we keep hearing from all angles of the media – but is it?

No. But it is evolving to meet the needs of generational shifts in shopping habits which retailers must adapt to in order to give consumers a desirable experience. Those that respond positively to shoppers and adapt, appreciate the increased value this change offers for potential survival.

Retail is no longer there to serve the customer, it’s the customer who decides if retailers remain relevant to the high street.

Those retailers that refuse to listen are deserving of their fate. It’s not a surprise or the fault of external factors when a major retailer, who failed to adapt, calls in the administrators. Social and economic factors are not going to ‘improve’ as they are proving to be the norm – it’s just how life is now – therefore boards of major retailers need to stop procrastinating and adapt fast.

With 89% of UK sales still generated through physical retail, the desire to shop on the High Street is still prevalent, retailers need to adapt creatively to capture a slice of those sales.

To believe that your exact same format which has been successful for decades remains relevant today is wrong. Millennials are bored with the same format. That’s why they’ve abandoned trusted retailers and by doing so, they are clearly stating that “it’s you, not them” that’s the problem.

Clashing styles

From traditional retail chains to independents and pop up stores, the ones that ‘get it’ are doing so to great effect. Whether it be through introducing speaker spaces within the store, to conducting free classes or work zones to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere. By also introducing other brands to coexist alongside your brand, is winning hearts and minds. Retail is changing. Changing positively but perhaps not fast enough to decrease the failures of trusted retail brands and reduce the vacant units on our high streets.

Debenhams tried this by introducing Patisserie Valerie cafes within their stores which proved fatal for both brands, partly due to their incompetence to manage their finances or understand the consumer. You don’t ‘accidently’ misplace £40m neither do you introduce a traditional patisserie into an already stale retail format such as Debenhams, in an attempt to entice new and younger shoppers. The opportunity to revive its fortunes could be taken from its past when it introduced designer names to its stable with huge success. Those designers are now only known by a generation who are 40+ and irrelevant to the shoppers needed to keep the Debenhams brand relevant on today’s high street.

With Arcadia group also struggling reputationally through the alleged actions of its high profile owner and also financially, they have a huge task ahead to transform. Reducing your retail footprint by closing stores to cut costs is not the solution, change is. But is it too late to turn some of Arcadia’s brands around?

Maybe not. The larger ‘flagship’ TopShop stores do it well by adopting shared spaces that offer consumers other brands or services like piercing or cosmetics to create an immersive shopping experience. Unfortunately, Topshop don’t seem to translate this successful format as well across the regions in the UK. Translating this ‘experience’ model across the entire estate is essential to relate to consumers who don’t necessarily have the means or desire to travel to a ‘flagship’ store.

Placing short term profit over evolution is short-sighted as this approach is somewhat ironic, a lack of investment makes you stale rather than revolutionary, making a brand irrelevant to today’s shopper.

Retailers assemble!

Those retailers who are winning have amalgamated, rather successfully, multiple brands under one roof that complement each other and often work in concert, to offer convenience for the shopper. Successful examples include the Argos purchase by Sainsbury’s and introducing Argos shop in shop (SiS) within larger Sainsbury formats and in 11 stores to include the desirable Habitat brand, which was snapped up by Argos several years back and now revived through the Sainsbury’s acquisition. This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.

As the pioneer of mail order fashion, reimagining retail seems to come easy for Next who have successfully evolved its physical presence with the inclusion of SiS concepts in selected stores. Brands such as Lipsy, Paperchase, Henna and Costa can be found in the Next Oxford Street store and Mamas & Papas in its Bristol Cribbs Causeway store. Unsurprisingly this approach works for both anchor brand and SiS. With a staggering 2,481 stores disappearing off the High Street in 2018, the opportunity to split the overheads in tough economic times impacted by changing shopping habits, this is a successful combination for both retailer and shopper.

Those who complain that they can’t make retail work need look no further than their competition who are getting it right through understanding the zeitgeist. Shopping habits have changed with generational shifts and the glory days many failing retailers harp on about are not going to make a reappearance. It’s up to retailers to carve out a niche and appeal to the generations who now prefer both the physical and online aspects of retail, but are also seeking convenience and above all an experience.

Experience to try, taste, smell, learn, question, dwell to be part of something that transcends generations and the stereotypes of what ‘Retail’ should be. Retail can be whatever you want it to be.

Successful retail evolves to remain current and relevant to its audience. A retail renaissance is what we need.

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

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Re-Discovering the ‘Forgotten Tribe’ of Customer Service Experts

CXM Blog

Retail is buoyant, exciting, and transformative, so what better sector to be in right now?

This was the counterintuitive conclusion of a recent white paper produced by Retail Week in partnership with Manhattan Associates. Based on in-depth interviews with 25 senior retail executives, it showed that despite current obstacles affecting retail, 64 percent expected sales in 2019 to be flat or slightly better than last year. Twenty percent even estimated that sales will be much better than the past year.

Coupled with this, when questioned about the balance they are seeking between cutting costs and driving growth in order to achieve profitability, more than 50 percent cited ‘mostly growth’, indicative of a sector confident in its ability to progress. With 80 percent of shopping still happening on the high street  (ONS December 2018) not over the internet, now’s the time for retailers – especially brick and mortar – to define their future.

There’s been so much conversation about what’s driving retail strategy; innovation in technology driving back and front of store; data driven omnichannel insights providing a single view of the customer; experience rather than transactional stores. But if 80 percent of shopping still happens on the high street, there’s one area that’s being left behind and that’s the ‘people’ strategy to improve customer centricity and drive sales.

Let’s face it, it’s the one part of retail that often seems the weak link. If you are over 40 you may remember the days of ‘are you being served?’. Although somewhat exaggerated it was a real indicator of retail customer centricity – personal, caring, and over the top.

According to the survey, investment in customer service and experience is top alongside ecommerce strategy as a priority for execs in 2019. It is the only differentiator a business has to entice customers into their store environment if they don’t want to buy online and the product is widely available.

Businesses that started online, such as Misguided, are appearing on the high street and brick and mortar retailers are realising the unique benefits of their physical space and making plans to optimise it accordingly – whether that’s a lifestyle destination or concept store. Over the last decade, staff have been like a forgotten tribe: transient, paid the minimum wage, and left to roam the shop floor with little, if any product knowledge or customer training.

But retailers seem to be going full circle in realising the importance of a ‘people-first strategy’. In brick and mortar retail, the team on the floor are the most important asset, they are the ‘brand ambassadors’, the ones face to face with customers who can deliver a personal experience, explain products, give specialist advice, encourage a sale, and give customers that warm, cuddly feeling. But if it’s so important, realising it is not enough – retailers need to invest in and execute a people-first strategy.

So what does a people-first strategy entail? To start with, let’s ditch the word sales assistant – it has a very transactional connotation. Sixty-two percent of execs said one of their biggest challenges is finding the right people with the right skills, and if this doesn’t change, nor will retail.

We’re in new territory where sales assistants are the custodians of the customer’s brand experience and I think we’re getting somewhere here. If you search for sales assistants on job boards, many are being advertised as Customer Experience assistants. And whilst you may think this is a nuance, it’s a huge step forward in transforming the way people think about roles within retail and how retailers recruit.

Face-to-face retail isn’t going anywhere; it’s just changing, mainly driven by the expense of being on the high street, rather than people just buying online. This is presenting a multitude of opportunities for retailers – store within a store, click and try/buy, personalisation, and home delivery. Retailers just need to make sure they can capitalise on those opportunities.

Retail must put people and pay before profit, training before transactions, and nurture talent before staff turnover. This way you’ll have a people first strategy that will entice customers to come and enjoy discovering what it is you have on offer – an experience online can’t replicate. This way, retailers may give themselves a fighting chance of remaining profitable.

To read the full article please visit Customer Experience Magazine.

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Why Google’s launch of Stadia is a game-changer for the gaming industry

Stadia Blog

Google’s launch of Stadia is a game-changer, and a move that will have Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony quite concerned. No downloads, no patches and no console makes this the cloud gamers dream, and Google is delivering this incredible service without compromising on graphics quality. With 2.3bn active gamers globally and 46 per cent of those (1.1bn) spending, the financial impact to the establishment is significant. More so with the forecasted growth of gaming from $137.9bn (£105.3bn) in 2018 to more than $180.1bn by 2021.

Generational changes in consumers have seen Millennials identify with nostalgia, and they recapture their youth through console gaming, just as they have been doing for over 20 years. Back in 1994 PlayStation appeared on the market and having sold 525m consoles. It’s by far the most successful gaming platform ever.

Sony, together with Nintendo and Microsoft, has attempted to evolve the proposition and gaming to a digital platform with some degree of success. The most successful here is again PlayStation, with 80m active users on its PlayStation Network, up from 70m only a year ago.

However, PlayStation 4 Sony’s most up-to-date platform, is now six years old and accounts for a third of the total Sony turnover and profit. It’s no understatement to describe PlayStation as the jewel in Sony’s portfolio and that may just be about to be disrupted.

“A new generation platform”
Enter Google with its Stadia solution. As Phil Harrison VP and general manager at Google stated when launching Stadia: “It’s a new generation platform, rather than a next generation platform” which is what perhaps Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have failed to achieve. Instead they’re merely evolving the concept of their platforms, rather than recreating them. Stadia will be a tough act to follow, with sharing options via YouTube, which has 63m daily viewers worldwide, Google Assistant built in, 4K resolution games at 60 frames per second with HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a plan to support 8K resolution in the future.

It may be game over for the business of selling hardware and encouraging gamers to ‘upgrade’ to a new console. This is not great for retailers who make a good margin on selling the hardware to eager gamers needing to upgrade to access the dream being sold by the platforms. For the platforms, success relies heavily on the hardware sales as the portal to the business end of the operation, the games themselves. Much like the print industry, brands sell the hardware at little or no margin to acquire users to the platform, tying them in to facilitate access to the gaming titles which deliver the true spoils and profit to the platforms.

Now with Stadia the internet is your store, with the network and data centre as your platform. So perhaps the paradigm is about to shift and the gaming industry will see a new emperor wear the clothes.

Generation Alpha

Consider Generation Alpha, the generation born after 2012, who as future consumers have been born into an era where minimalism in hardware drives digital innovation. This is the generation whom Stadia speaks to in volumes, and it may well turn out to be the only gaming platform this generation ever knows. Given that many 10 year olds become avid gamers, mobile phone, tablet and computer users, with no concept of physical media, this seismic shift could make the gaming establishment obsolete, unless their platforms evolve quickly.

To read the full article please visit Mobile Marketing.

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