Tag Archives: Gekko

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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How are department stores taking aim at Gen Z shoppers?

In recent years, department stores have increased investment into online offerings, digital marketing campaigns and product collaborations in a bid to target younger shoppers.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, an independent study estimated that Gen Z’s direct and indirect spending power reached up to $143 billion, a level of financial influence that made brands and retailers alike stand up and take note.

Despite the pandemic hampering the sector worldwide, Gen Z shoppers’ digitally native lifestyle meant their spending wasn’t limited when stores were closed during government lockdowns.

Now that all legal Covid restrictions have ceased across the UK, these younger shoppers are expecting the same digital and interactive elements they have access to online within physical retail spaces when venturing out.

Last month, London’s Selfridges opened its new gaming destination PlayHouse with hopes to cash in on the lucrative gaming market and entice younger shoppers.

The 200sq m store brings together digital and physical experiences with immersive VR experiences and car racing simulators.

Last year Harrods launched and expanded H Beauty, which offers a range of premium and luxury brands under one roof as well as onsite treatments, consultations and demonstrations.

While in July, the luxury department store launched a clothing rental service in partnership with My Wardrobe HQ in a bid to tap into shoppers seeking sustainable fashion options.

This came a month after a new report from Depop revealed that Gen Z’s shopping behaviours are “strongly influenced” by brands commitments to social and environmental sustainability.

When it comes to sustainability, 90 per cent of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they have made changes to be more sustainable in their daily lives and more sustainable fashion practices play a central role.

Melissa Minkow, Retail Industry Lead at the digital consultancy firm CI&T said these recent moves have been smart.

“The department store concept isn’t completely irrelevant in terms of how younger generations shop, but it does need to be updated in order to fully resonate,” she told Retail Gazette.

“Gen Z is a group of social shoppers- they enjoy making shopping a shared experience for themselves and their peers, and department stores structurally haven’t been super conducive to indulging that desire. These efforts will cater to Gen Z’s appreciation of mall culture and destination shopping.”

Oliver Guy, Senior Director, Industry Solutions at Software AG explained that now because Gen Z makes up more than a third of the global population, “Selfridges and Harrods are right to try and attract younger shoppers into stores and retailers who ignore them will face their own peril.

“The key reason for this is that we are in an age whereby consumer habits commence with younger generations and move onto older generations.”

He noted Instagram as a key example as it started with teenagers but now the older generations are also avid users.

“Retailers investing to meet the requirements of Gen Z is not so much about spending power now, but about the generational influence it will have in the future as they lay the foundations for the future of living,” he added.

“The things that Gen Z look for in retail experiences set a high bar and are areas in which other generational cohorts will also desire one day.”

While department stores look to target these younger shoppers, can they do so successfully without alienating older consumers?

Daniel Todaro, Managing Director of Gekko, the marketing and experiential agency said it is possible: “Look at those who do it well with all age groups, the likes of Lush, Urban Outfitters, Apple and any sports brands stores.”

“They offer a little bit of something for all enhanced with great customer service.

“It needs to be somewhere people plan to go, not just need to go. This is especially true for Gen Z, those digital natives who perhaps seek something that their online world does not provide,” he added.

“The introduction of physical ‘pop ups’ in-store or tailored shopping destinations are designed to unite rather than alienate shoppers, and bring them to together in a universal experience which goes beyond ‘just shopping’.

“In a world that has seen the adoption of online shopping increase so rapidly, these experiences are key to entice new customers in store, regardless of generation.

“That said, traditional retailers do need to be wary of not becoming too focused on the interests of younger generations at the expense of older consumers.”

Ed Hill, SVP EMEA at Bazaarvoice explained that these new offerings such as Selfridge’s gaming destination and Harrods’ H Beauty stores will see younger and older shoppers alike opting to visit department stores, which traditionally have been seen to be more exclusive to older consumer groups.

He added that the disposable income available to the baby boomer generation is essential for the luxury market, something the likes of Harrods and Selfridges has built itself upon.

“Older consumers might be more convenience driven, compared to younger generations which are attracted by visuals and engaging experiences, but they all want a smooth and seamless shopping journey which provides the outcome they entered the store looking for,” Ed said.

“All retail journeys and experiences should be optimised to appeal to all generations.”

Alongside the existing new measures department store retailers have put in place, Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation at Aptos emphasised that department stores have to continue giving Gen Z shoppers ample reasons to come to stores.

“Events, education, celebrities, etc. Gen Z is more about experiences than things,” she explained.

“That doesn’t mean they won’t buy things, but it does mean that retailers need to do more to create the events that lead to products. Department stores especially, since many brands they carry are available direct from the brands themselves or pretty much any place you want to look online.”

When asked if department store retailers are simply focusing on experiential retail rather than Gen Z shoppers, Ed Hill explained that department stores have been faced with a real battle for some time, and the pandemic has done nothing to help this.

“Experiential retail has become a focus for retail across the board, particularly as consumers seek heightened social experiences that have been missing for 18 months,” he added.

“There’s no doubt that department stores need to adapt and appeal to Gen Z shoppers, like every retailer does, and partnerships with brands that provide experiential experiences – as seen in Selfridge’s collaboration with Smartech for its gaming PlayHouse  –  can be a vital lifeline for retailers looking to remain relevant amongst younger audiences.”

After the last year wherein digital commerce has been at the fore, what has become clear is that physical retail needs to meet customer expectations and offer them the same interactive experience that they have online.

Nikki Baird said the problem is that many department stores have mistaken their company history for their brand.

“Department stores have a long and storied history, but they have let that history be what defines them to their customers,” she explained.

“That only has relevancy to older shoppers who have that shared history.”

Baird said that in digital-led retailing, “who” the brand is becomes the most important thing, because it’s what is most easily conveyed online.

“‘I have the best brands’ – what most department stores really have as their brand – does not translate,” she added.

“Having the best brands is meaningless when the best brands are literally one tab away in the browser.

“I think even the department stores that have invested in technology to revamp their image have gained some traction with Gen Z because they have cool ways to engage, but none of them have really invested in a true sense of brand or lifestyle that is differentiated from any other brand or retailer, and they will continue to struggle for relevancy until they do.”

Why have department store retailers been behind trends in recent years?

Melissa Minkow explained that because consumers don’t shop as frequently anymore with a specific brand in mind- they shop by category, the way department stores are merchandised doesn’t appeal to current shopping behaviours.

She added that the usual price points found in department stores tend to sit in the mid-range, which has been a decreasingly successful spot for retailers.

“It’s not necessarily that department stores have been behind trends, it’s more that they just don’t offer a value proposition suited to current consumer behaviours,” she said.

“Finally, with the rise of social media, retail has become an extremely quick-turn space for assortment. The Department Store model isn’t meant for this fast-fashion dominant retail culture.”

Lisette Huyskamp, chief marketing officer at Productsup added: “Department stores have undoubtedly struggled to Certain high street retailers have moved towards a successful omnichannel approach but many department stores have struggled to play catch-up in recent years and keep pace.

“While not a department store, a great example of what can happen when things go wrong is GAP. The American clothing company failed to invest heavily enough in its digital offering, resulting in severe job losses and the closure of all its UK and Ireland stores.

“Therefore, the John Lewis and Selfridges of the high street must hone in on what they do best and amplify this across multiple channels to truly offer customers a compelling experience that spans across in-store and online.”

Last month news broke that Amazon was looking to enter into department stores, leading many to ask if the ecommerce giant would disrupt existing retailers, much like it did for grocers across the UK after Amazon Go and Fresh opened doors.

Oliver Guy spoke on Amazon’s recent plans and said the new changes will accelerate how quickly organisations see that reinventing the store is essential.

“Other department stores only have one purpose – transactions,” he explained.

“Amazon’s venture will shake up the industry to provide new offerings and experiences to customers. Retailers will be watching carefully and working out how they are going to adapt to reflect this.”

Melissa Minkow added that department store brands that have been able to survive this rough retail period will likely uncover and borrow some best practices from Amazon’s efforts, while learning from the pitfalls.

“I wouldn’t say this move will revive the sector as a whole, but smart department retailers will learn from both the good and bad that come out of this experiment because Amazon is willing to take risks a heritage sector wouldn’t typically take,” said Minkow.

“In particular, Amazon’s move will force heritage department stores to rethink how convenient and seamlessly shoppable they are for consumers.

“Some of the reasons department stores have struggled- unpredictable inventory, staffing shortages, non-intuitive merchandising- will hopefully end up changing after Amazon executes in an exemplary way against those issues.

She explained that this could spur an overhaul of all current CX-related strategies for retailers such as John Lewis and Selfridges.

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Group

Article published by Retail Gazette

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

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How retailers can maximise sales in a Golden Quarter like no other

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From a retail point of view, whether we are ready or not, September means all eyes start looking towards Black Friday and the Christmas Peak period. The importance of this period can’t be underestimated, particularly in 2021 on the back of shops being shut for such long periods during the various lockdowns. Finally we return to a more “normal” period of retail behaviour and holiday festivities with some strong indications the bounce back could be like no other. Let’s explore what some of the forecasts are predicting and how the season is expected to play out this time.

Consumer confidence has been consistently rising through this year and should be closing in on positive territory as we get to the golden quarter. GfK’s trusted Consumer Confidence Index is already up to -8 from the latest August reading, putting it ahead of pre-pandemic levels, and barring any serious economic or public health issues it should keep its momentum.

Absence makes the wallet grow stronger

Within this, there have been big jumps in major purchase indexes too, with shoppers seemingly ready to spend on the right products at any price point. UK consumers are estimated to have saved around £200bn in the various lockdowns, while 54% of those savers are ready to spend it on Black Friday and Christmas according to a recent survey by Future plc.

A big draw for spending that money for most people this year will be the fact that we all missed out in many ways last year. Whether it be seeing more loved ones, a family holiday or a trip to an atmospheric high street to do the Christmas shopping. Those returning will be expecting a positive experience from brands and retailers, and it will be important to consider both shoppers that are part of this group, along with those that remain cautious with the virus still circulating.

Whichever way people behave, it looks like certain patterns are going to come to the fore. Home improvements, fashion, health & beauty, and toys of course are all set to be categories of real growth this season. Although there could be a whole series of sectors that could benefit when it comes to potential sales growth due to pent up demand.

All of this confidence is pointing to optimism for the festive period when it comes to sales forecasts for 2021. Although a slight drop is predicted in total retail terms due to less food sales this year, Retail Week research predicts a 0.5% increase in non-food sales vs Q4 2020, and a 1.7% improvement figure in comparison with 2019. The two year increase largely comes as a result of consumers spending more time at home, and subsequently spending more on home improvements and entertainment.

Retailers primed for the discount season

So when will the spending begin? Last year marked a change for the season and its normal pattern with a much longer promotional season. Consumers were urged to shop early due to the strain on the supply chain, and significantly Amazon positioned its Prime Day in October, a month earlier than Black Friday in November.

Amazon moved Prime Day back to its regular summer slot this year, and it remains to be seen whether they will launch another promotion in October to match its 2020 position. I wouldn’t bet against the ecommerce giant pencilling in another sale for that valuable slot again, whether it is another branded Prime Day or otherwise. If it does, then other retailers will follow suit and we will get another lengthy promotional period like we did last year.

Christmas shopping starting earlier this year

There are some warnings of issues that could dampen the mood this year however. Pandemic related problems could arise of course, along with truck driver shortages and global supply chain disruptions that may delay goods arriving to the UK at all. Reporting by The Observer found that retailers are already warning consumers to get thinking about shopping for Christmas to avoid disappointment. It’s the second year in a row where such implications have been highlighted. It is becoming clear that consumers are hearing that call, a recent Ebay survey showed that 41% of shoppers are aiming to get their Christmas shopping done before December even begins, as opposed to just 25% last year.

Retail as ever will continue to rise to any challenge. 86% said they will enact the in-store safety and hygiene measures they relied on during 2020 in order to protect their customers. Meanwhile businesses are acting now to ensure they have the stock they need for a successful Christmas period. With more consumers in store this year, retailers will need to ensure they are managing any issues behind the scenes. They will also need to ensure that customers on the shop floor are getting the purchasing experience they have looked forward to.

As we approach Christmas 2021, consumers are certainly going to have plenty of choice as to where to spend their budgets, and retailers will have to do all they can to make sure they stand out from the crowd. Engaging marketing, whether it be store representatives, training or merchandising activities, can ensure that the consumer knows who you are and why they should be choosing your products. Once that is achieved then loyalty and success will follow, and not just for Christmas.

By Tom Harwood, Data and Insight Manager, Gekko Group

Article published by BDaily

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Be Smart Be Smart Tech Savvy

Daniel Todaro, Managing Director of Gekko gives his take on consumer demand for smart tech.

The pandemic has changed the way we interact with our homes. Having spent an inordinate amount of time lounging around the house with our families, we have found new and interesting ways to not only entertain ourselves but also protect ourselves. At the heart of this has been smart technology that has enabled us to stream, cast, view, listen, observe and command and it’s unlikely we’re going to see an immediate cessation of the trend.

In the UK our thirst for smart technology continues and revenue in the Smart Home market (not including smart TV’s) is set to reach £5,277m in 2021 with an expected annual growth rate (CAGR 2021-2025)* of 15.06%, resulting in a projected market volume of £9,249m by 2025. So what does this mean for brands and retailers? It’s a positive trend that nods to an opportunity for all to continue focusing on as our homes become outdated and the need to update becomes essential and note merely fanciful.

The trend is set to see the Smart Home market increase across the number of active households increasing to 18.7m users by 2025. This household penetration will increase from the forecasted 37.4% in 2021 to hit 63.0% by 2025. That’s not the only positive signal. The amount we are prepared to spend is also uplifting with the average spend per installed Smart Home currently forecasted at £481.83 and even if this does not materialise, it indicates the scale of the opportunity from every customer that enquires or starts the journey of upgrading to Smart technology.

The global comparison reveals that most revenues in the sector are naturally generated in the United States, where the size of the market is over four times that of the UK at £22,408m in 2021. So even though we may not be in the same league as our US cousins, we are performing well for a nation of our size, one that is full of early adopters looking to spend on new technology before our EU neighbours. More importantly though, just look deeper at the demographic spread. In 2020 the share of 36.5% of users adopting smart technology was in the medium income group but even more interesting is that the share of 28.8% of users/purchasers were in the 25-34 year old age range.

So as we look to develop our living environments to control our home, become better connected to streaming platforms and increase our peace of mind with total security, the need to engage with consumers at a level which increases sales is critical. Consider every factor from the usage and the ecosystem that works best for your consumer and know your stuff.

A key element of the formula for success in store is a shoppers’ 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 exploit to their advantage. 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. The need to keep up to date is essential in order to capitalise on sales opportunities through trends in smart technology. Many brands have adapted ranges to meet the changing habits of consumers and our increased levels of time spent at home that have seen us cook, clean and entertain ourselves in the home more than we have ever done before. The space we occupy has evolved, we are now not only bothered about how it looks but increasingly also about how it works as a space to live in. This will no doubt ease once we come out of restrictions but changes are likely to stick.

Consumer demand will remain dynamic and therefore the current situation means that interest in products is still unpredictable. As household demand shifts, it alters long standing behaviours and creates new ones e.g. home-working leads to more interest in home luxuries and smart technologies as does the inert nature to protect our possessions and loved ones.

Innovation in the category will create more demand as brands bring to market more connected devices that integrate smart technology into the inanimate objects. A great example of this is where Ikea is working with Sonos on a hidden speaker built into wall art. Previous collaborations include a revamped version of the Symfonisk table lamp selling for around the same price (£150) as the original product. The Sonos Play 1 hardware is implemented into the body of the lamp to link into your existing system or used as a stand alone Sonos streaming solution. The second product that Ikea and Sonos are rumoured to be announcing in 2021 is completely new: a piece of wall art with an integrated speaker concealing the technical bit and integrating smart technology into lifestyle products.

Beyond speakers, home security and computing, integration across many categories from white goods such as laundry and cooling are now becoming commonplace and for product line ups from some brands, are now standard features. With initiatives to integrate these seamlessly irrespective of brand and assistant underway, it will undoubtedly expedite demand. One category that naturally did well in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021 are those smart devices that help with a home’s health and cleanliness such as intelligent air filtration systems. These can automatically detect air quality and begin operation or be pushed to purify on-demand via app or voice control, not only do they provide cleaner air within the home but offer peace of mind and tap into the zeitgeist.

So when you factor in the need for better compatibility, it’s welcome news that the initiative is underway to make it easier to create a smart eco system from many brands such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Philips who have agreed to collaborate to make all of their smart home devices compatible with one another. This has been entitled the ‘Matter’ Project which will create more choices for consumers. The goal of Matter is to increase the compatibility of your hardware to make sure you’re able to use your smart home devices with the voice assistant you prefer, whether that be Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant. At launch, when it is unknown yet but when available, Matter will run on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Some might say that this is a long overdue initiative that in reality expands the category and consumer reach for all brands whilst offering convenience for consumers.

As a retailer or reseller, 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 propositions that grab the imagination and reveal the possibilities a smart home can achieve. Explain creatively a story that envelopes the consumer, enough to become a customer through informed choices of Smart Tech purchases that work seamlessly for them and their lifestyle.

*Statista

Article originally published in PCR Magazine

Photo by John Tekeridis 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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Is a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme enough to boost UK retail?

With the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions lifted, there have been calls for a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme – in the same vein as last year’s Eat Out to Help Out – to help the embattled retail sector. Retail Gazette speaks to experts to find out it would be enough to help high streets recover.

At the beginning of the month, a petition to introduce a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme was launched in a bid to help struggling independent high street retailers.

The idea, instigated by membership programme Refundable and in the same vein as the Eat Out to Help Out last summer, calls for customers to be rewarded a 50 per cent 50 per cent rebate when shopping in small or independent retailers that employer fewer than 10 staff.

With over thousands of shops having closed permanently within the last year, the scheme could potentially act as a lifeline to retailers, providing them with a safety net as they emerge from restrictions.

Refundable is currently encouraging both consumers and retailers to sign the petition, with the goal of reaching 100,000 signatures.

While it is clear that smaller retailers need more support during the transition back to normality in the wake of “freedom day” earlier this week, there are still doubts that a scheme of this nature would not be enough to revive high streets.

Polly Barnfield, chief executive of Maybe, a member of the government’s High Street Taskforce, said that “at the moment, all help should be welcomed and embraced including schemes like Shop Out To Help Out”.

However, she stated that while the scheme could provide the short term financial boost that many retailers and high streets need, “there’s more that needs to be done than just that”.

“To sustain longer term recovery and growth, collaboration between retailers is essential to turn our high streets into destinations with a mix of retail and hospitality that shoppers want to go to for the mix,” she explained.

“It’s about enthusing and engaging consumers across social platforms to drive them towards local physical stores rather than ecommerce stores, creating ‘localism on steroids’ so that shoppers are convinced that your local High Street can provide.”

Dr Eleonora Pantano, retail marketing expert at the University of Bristol, agreed: “The demise of physical stores and the high street started long before the pandemic, which has accelerated the decline.

“To really boost retail sectors, retailers need more substantial financial support to help them adapt from being just a place to shop to offering a memorable experience, which gives them a competitive advantage against online options and the chance of winning customer loyalty.

“When the Shop Out to Help Out money runs out, shoppers won’t return unless there is something special to keep them coming back.”

Last year’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme was hailed a success by the hospitality sector with the majority of businesses reporting that it led to a boost in sales. At the same time, it was met with criticism amid accusations that it helped spur on the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, during a time when the vaccine was not yet widely available.

Despite this, according to Big Hospitality, over 70 per cent of businesses said they’d like to see the scheme repeated again in the future as more than 100 million meals were claimed by diners under the scheme. In addition, booking for the final day, August 31, was up 216 per cent year-on-year.

While this scheme was successful, could this be replicated with one for retailers?

Helen Ashton, chief executive at Shape Beyond, said Eat Out to Help Out was a success as “discounts on food in restaurants are relatively rare and the timing post the first lockdown was great when people were desperate to get out”.

“Discounting of consumer goods is likely to be less impactful as it is a regular occurrence in the retailing seasonal calendar,” she added.

Earlier this week, England ushered in the so-called “freedom day”, which marked the official lifting of Covid restrictions. So would this be the perfect time to launch a Shop Out to Help Out discount scheme?

Rupert Cook, marketing director at marketing agency Gekko, said that the summer holidays were traditionally a relatively quiet period for many retailers, so it may be more effective to give the high street a boost once the autumn term starts as people would be back from their breaks or back to work as the furlough scheme is tapered off.

He added that for those that like to start their Christmas shopping early, Shop Out to Help Out could provide an added incentive.

“What’s probably more pressing for businesses right now is the Covid self isolation rules that are no longer fit for purpose,” he explained.

“The more people are being pinged and told to stay away from work, the harder it is for businesses including retail, to operate.

“Only this week, the managing director of Iceland stated that he is having to close some stores and have restricted opening at others because of staff shortage – something they never had to contend with through the depths of lockdown.

“We should also bear in mind, that with Covid cases rising daily, there is a real possibility that we may be blighted with further lockdowns.”

Retail Business mentor Ami Rabheru agreed.

“The biggest threat I see facing retail businesses going into the golden quarter is the ‘pingdemic’,” she said.

“If staff of small businesses are being asked to isolate by NHS they have to shut down their bricks and mortar shops or reduce hours for that period of time due to staff shortages which will inevitably hurt their recovery for what is the biggest time of the year for most retail businesses.

“So I think that businesses should spend time and effort on building a better customer journey and experiences between the two channels whilst keeping the customer at the heart of their businesses to move forward with the new normal of retail.”

While there have been concerns that a Shop Out to Help Out initiative could cause a surge in positive Covid cases, Cook argued that we are now in a world where a high proportion of the population has been vaccinated.

He stated that unlike the Eat out To Help Out scheme, a retail version wouldn’t be encouraging people to gather together indoors.

“Shopping is a sociable activity but realistically is a more solitary or selective social activity,” he said.

When originally proposed, the Shop Out to Help Out was meant to target smaller and independent retailer rather than the larger chains. Refundable owner Lee Plaister said in a statement that “independent retailers have had a very challenging year and it’s crucial that the government steps up to assist the recovery”.

However, there are concerns that if implemented, Brits would flock to high street staples instead of local, independent stores.

Colin Munro, managing director of fintech firm Miconex, said: “Both small local shops and larger chains have their place on the high street, and the best initiatives are those that encourage all businesses to work together for the benefit of the community, building vibrant, attractive high streets for the future.”

“A customer may visit the high street for the large chain, but they may then also visit the independent book store and coffee shop.

“Customers want choice in how and where they spend, and any Shop Out To Help Out initiative will be more successful if it takes account of this.”

Article published by Retail Gazette

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

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FIVE TIPS FOR BOOSTING YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH DURING HYBRID WORKING

As we move toward a full re-opening of the economy there remains some uncertainty about how often we will return to offices. A leaked Whitehall document recommended the Government should not actively tell people to go back to the workplace after 19 July. While different messages have come from Ministers, it seems likely that an element of home working is to continue. Most companies seem set to operate at least a part hybrid model, between home working and coming into the office. A recent survey from Gemsatwork found that more than three-quarters (77%) of workplaces that fully closed during the most recent UK lockdown have reopened, with 47% of staff back to the office on a day-to-day basis.

Responsible employers will want to tread cautiously in how they approach the return to offices during what remains a difficult time for many people. It is important to be mindful about employees’ mental health, with many peoples’ emotional states fragile to say the least. Employees will need to adapt to make sure they take the right steps to ensure they can manage the very different challenges of hybrid working compared to solely working from home.

At Gekko we have worked with both physical and mental health experts to ensure our staff have been supported as best we can. So with the support of our practitioners, Bianca Sainty & Bep Dhaliwal, I’d like to share our best tips for looking after yourself as we mix between the real office and the home office.

1)   Embrace the outdoors every day to lift your mood

There is a great volume of research showing that spending time outdoors gives an immediate and lasting boost to mental wellbeing. A KCL Urban Mind Study in 2018 found that “Seeing trees, hearing birdsong and seeing the sky has significant immediate associations with mental wellbeing”. Meanwhile another study by the University of Michigan in 2019 revealed that taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.

To achieve this, actually diarising your walk can have a positive impact. This applies equally to being in the office and working from home. According to fitness coach Bianca Sainty a fitness and wellbeing coach and founder of Pod Fitness: ‘When you are WFH, start your day with a ‘fake’ commute. Plan a 30 minute route that starts and finishes at home and walk this every day. As you walk, you create the mental space you need to shift focus from home life to work. This will help to maintain a vital boundary between your home and work lives.’

2)   Keep a consistent sleep routine to maintain productivity

As we ease back into a hybrid situation, the changes in rhythm to our day can actually play havoc with our sleep. Setting alarms at different times is likely to confuse our bodies and impact the regularity we need to remain on top of our productivity game. According to Bianca: ‘Better to stick to the one, earlier wake-up time, every day, regardless of whether you are commuting. For optimal wellbeing, adults need between seven and nine hours sleep every night. Work out your ‘lights out’ time by using this formula: Lights Out time = Wake Up time MINUS 7 to 9 hours (insert the amount you need).’ She adds: ‘By adopting this consistent routine, you will ensure you don’t fall into sleep deficit. Plus, on the days when you work from home, you gain extra time for self-care. Win-win!’

3)  Nurture strong relationships to help make you stress-resistant

As we return to the office a real bonus is the chance to interact with colleagues and friends (those that we get on with anyway!) It may seem overwhelming at first but we are fundamentally social beings and this period of isolation has been unnatural for all of us. According to Bep Dhaliwal, Founder of Thrive365, a Resilience coach that has worked closely with the Gekko team: ‘Cultivating strong relationships will make you more resistant to stress and have a strong support network. Connection is a fundamental human need.’

For those continuing to work from home – remember your other colleagues will likely feel the same about the feelings of isolation, so that should help feeling less alone when you are working from home. Zoom or Teams meetings don’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry – so perhaps we need a new approach to how we handle them. One strategy is to not view the screen as a block to normal social interaction. According to Bep: “We can still make time to connect before/after a video call, where you talk about things unrelated to work.”

4)   Remain curious and flexible to help you ‘lean into’ change

The Buddhist philosophy of accepting that things change has really been put to the test during this extraordinary period. Our lives have been dramatically altered and there is an increasing realisation there won’t just be a swift return to the pre-pandemic era. We all need to accept change and ‘lean into’ it. For a rapidly changing job market and new hybrid work environment a flexible, progressive approach is the best way to remain employable and also help you cope.

According to Bep: ‘Know that things change. The more you are open to this, the quicker you learn, adapt and grow from setbacks. Just because things have been done in a certain way beforehand, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way for them to be done now. Present the challenge to the team and invite a creative new alternative…..enjoy being curious.’

5)   Have an optimistic outlook and focus on your goals

During this time, the choppy waters of the pandemic have knocked many of us off the course in life we may have set. This might be career, health related or even your relationships. What is crucial is that we keep sight of our life goals and objectives to give us a focus for this next period. Setting goals is a crucial element in recovering from mental health challenges and this period has arguably given everyone a form of PTSD. Having a positive attitude to getting back on track can certainly help. Bep says: ‘Acknowledge what’s in your control versus what you can’t control and look for the good.  We’re used to looking for the challenges in most situations, use a bit of neuroplasticity to carve a new path.’

Old certainties about life and the future certainly don’t hold water today. A hybrid way of working looks set to dominate in the future. Perhaps it has given us all a chance to think about the best way to work ‘your way’. But also remember to not be too hard on yourself while adapting to changes you can’t control. Make the best of the situation to embed some positive new habits. Having a plan to cope is essential as we adapt to hybrid working and the return to the office which is inevitable for all.

This article was originally published with Business Express

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Using The Power Of Insight To Enhance Your CX Proposition As Shoppers Return To Stores

As the country emerges from the worst of the pandemic, it is apparent that we are entering into a new world of retail across all channels. This landscape remains one that keeps changing, and understanding the customer experience at all stages is crucial to success, utilising data and insights effectively can ensure you stay ahead of the game.

For physical retail particularly, in differentiating itself from the rising e-commerce category, the concept of experience is now more at the forefront than ever before as consumers expect bricks and mortar stores to be an experiential destination as well as a point of purchase. First-hand insights from the best available source, the customer themselves, will help ensure those experiences with your business are both relevant and effective.

CX is key to brand loyalty

Loyalty to a brand is no longer dictated purely by price or product, it is now more to do with the overall experience a shopper receives, whether that be in-store or online. How businesses handle their customers is second only to product quality in terms of priority for consumers. Whereas an average conversion rate can sit as low as 1-3% for first time buyers, for a repeat customer it can reach as high as 60-70%, meaning that making that first experience positive is crucial. As a result of this, according to SuperOffice 46% of global business professionals surveyed said that elevating CX was the number one priority for their business over the next 5 years, as all channels realise its growing importance.

Clearly this is a trend that has already gathered pace, and in order to make sure they are at the forefront, brands are increasingly looking into data and insight to help shape their strategies. Being able to make decisions in real time based on changing events has never been more important, and those that find the right balance will build better consumer acquisition and loyalty through positive shopping experiences. 86% of consumers are actually willing to pay more if they receive quality service, and the more expensive the item, the more they are willing to pay.

Insight informing the customer experience

Although knowing just who your customers are isn’t quite enough any more, you need to try to understand exactly what they are looking for in a store visit, what shapes their purchasing journey, and importantly why they might like you in particular. Surveys work well, while face to face interaction with real life representatives can also provide key information right from the customer themselves. This engagement can be benchmarked to provide brands with valuable knowledge with which to react or strategise for. Such first party data (i.e. directly from the consumer) can be both transactional and/or behavioural, and is the most prized form available providing powerful insights that can be used to improve the customer journey.

One in three people will walk away from a brand after just one bad CX. Good insights can fix, or better yet pre-empt, these issues and cut a potential poor experience before it develops. A quick stock fix, product description change, or promotion update can be the difference between sales made and sales lost. In the positive scenario, it is a win-win for all parties, leaving both consumer and brand satisfied. Financially, the rewards for succeeding here are more than worth it, data from Qualtrics shows us that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25%-95%.

Physical retail is back – time to take advantage

Even with the rise of e-commerce over the course of the past year, physical retail is now back and as important as ever. It remains popular because shoppers can physically touch products they are interested in, items can be taken home immediately, and they can get tailored advice from experts. Their journey in store is defined by having an informative CX and a seamless transaction. Effective field marketing can hit both of these parameters head on, while at the same time gathering the direct insights needed to keep driving the consumer journey forward.

As retail continues to open up once more and the industry breathes again, both brands and marketers need data to enrich the CX, which as we know will then garner loyalty and recommendations. The most productive campaigns will be from those who can gather the most relevant first hand information, and are able to then use those insights to keep their customers happy with their experiences. It is this satisfaction that will in turn help your brand succeed.

Tom Harwood – Data & Insight Manager Gekko Group

To read the full article please visit Business Mondays

The photo that accompanies this article is by Burst from Pexels

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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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