Tag Archives: high street

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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The glue that connects all communities

ert blog

By riding a crest of goodwill, utilising new digital channels and tapping into the networks of big brands independent retailers can punch above their weight, boosting sales and awareness.

Independent retailers have long faced competition on multiple fronts. The big threat for many years were the big chains gobbling up the high Street. Now that threat has moved online with digital pure play sites like Amazon eroding market share. The truth is not many customers are particularly sentimental about the plight of some of the bigger chains in trouble. However, the threat to local stores from the likes of Amazon and Omni Channel retailers has been met with much more concern from the public and big brands.

A series of initiatives have sprung up in defense of these traditional bastions of the high street, from independent record store day to independent retailer month. Additionally, reports from organisations like the New Economic Foundation have highlighted the benefits to local communities from spending in independent shops versus bigger stores or online. These messages have cut through. A survey last year by Pure 360 found that consumers are three times more likely to shop in independent stores than large shops in the next five years.

This approach has been noted by large brands who have started to latch onto this trend to boost their own credentials and bottom line by supporting local independent retail. Visa chose to focus its Christmas campaign on local heroes and independent stores. Visa’s focus was on switching the focus of the traditional format of a Christmas marketing campaign, from what people are buying or who they are buying for, to where they are buying things from. American Express did their bit too, with a ‘Shop Local’ campaign that rewarded AMEX customers with a £5 statement credit for shopping in local independent stores.

The digital revolution may represent a major threat to independent retailers in terms of competition, it also represents a huge opportunity in terms of marketing. Independent retailers have always had an intuitive understanding of their customers and this can be bolstered by digital channels. While local newspapers may be closing, local newspaper websites are seeing more growth than ever in readers. The explosion of SMART phones has also led to a huge increase in the figures accessing local radio and content, another great route for independents to get their messages out. This is not to mention social media, both paid and organic with the ability to offer a micro-targeting strategy and hyper local personalisation, enabled by both Facebook and Google. Clued up retailers are seeing the benefit of connecting with increasingly online communities springing up.

In electronics particularly, many product brands are wising up to the opportunity and skill local independents possess. A great example of this is Freeview. The Freeview Retail Development Team are a strategic field team, supporting independent retailers across the UK. The team are unique in that they do not sell a specific product for a specific brand. Instead, the team supports all Freeview (including Freeview, Freeview HD and Freeview Play) enabled products across all brands and stores.

Where some brand teams are selective in their retail support, the RDE team’s brand independence means they can offer the best possible service for independent retailers, cooperating with OEM brands such as Panasonic, Humax, LG and Toshiba to deliver up-to-date training on all products and services.

As well as assisting retailers through training, the Freeview team also supports independents with local marketing campaigns, in the past having managed localised radio, press and social media campaigns supporting selected retailers with a Freeview focus.

Through long-term training support, local marketing campaigns, and regular visits to ensure all staff are knowledgeable on all aspect of the brand, they help to ensure that independents are the destination of choice for Freeview customers. They understand the fact that independents can provide the glue that connects local communities.

By focusing on their strengths, connecting with these bigger brands and tapping into the needs of their customers through targeted local advertising, independent retailers can grow as a destination of choice for customers and become their local hero.

To read the full article please visit ERT Online

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Customers want service not sci-fi from high street retailers

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We all know the 2019 outlook for brick and mortar retail looks troubled and indeed it’s barely a month into the year and we’ve already seen Patisserie Valerie collapse into administration. Are we surprised? You only need to look at the makeup of the high street to see the extraordinary amount of competition facing a business like this coupled with the fact that the business hadn’t changed much since its launch. It needed to adapt and if brick and mortar retailers focus on aligning their strategies to current market conditions and take on board what customers say, a one size fits all decline isn’t inevitable.

We recently conducted a survey ‘Service, not Sci-Fi’ that looked at the reasons people were turning away from retailers but also how they might turn back. While cost cutting and staff consolidation might be the first response to disappointing figures, our survey showed this could have an immediate detrimental impact on sales. Our study found that 81% of UK shoppers felt that personal touch had disappeared from retail customer service in modern Britain. Almost a third (32%) blamed an over-reliance on technology for this decline. And half of those polled thought that companies in the UK use technology to save money, rather than improve customer experience.

Despite living in a world driven by technology, most people don’t want technology to sacrifice human opinion and experience. Only 30% said they would like to see ‘smart pricing’ initiatives adopted by retailers, where prices change in real time depending on demand, 22% would like to see smart mirrors that show a 360 view of themselves, 16% desire a VR changing room, while 14% want AR for visualise products at home and 9% seek a talking robotic assistant.

When asked what makes a great brick and mortar shopping experience, half of those polled said it was down to having good staff on the shop floor; staff that know the products (49%) and staff that go the extra mile (47%). Coupled with this, 61% of the nation would prefer to deal with someone face-to-face when complaining, while 59% liked a human interaction when enquiring or trying to find out more about a product and 73% wanted to see someone when being issued with a refund.

And back to the impact on the bottom line – a third of Brits say that the personal touch is more likely to encourage them make a repeat purchase, and more than a fifth (22%) claim they always spend more money in a shop if they are served by a good assistant, incrementally adding to sales. Over a third (34%) of shoppers stated that a poor experience has driven them to buy from another retailer.

The research also highlights the impact of the decline of local retailers, with a quarter of Brits saying they miss shopping somewhere where people recognise them and 16% confessing to preferring talking through a purchase with someone in-store, while a quarter reveal that online shopping is less fun than buying something in a real shop. The convenience of a store’s location is also important according to 43% of respondents which means that retailers should consolidate their estates. Many will notice immediate effects. This only emphasises the need to carefully consider the experience provided in-store and whether their staff can deliver the expected experience.

With traditional retail under more pressure than ever and an astonishing 81% of people feeling that the personal touch has disappeared from shopping, businesses need to focus on their customer experience strategies to keep people coming back for more.

To read the article please visit The Drum.

To read more about our Service not Sci-fi research please visit the Gekko website.

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Brits want ‘service over sci-fi’ from retailers: Gekko study

A study published by marketing agency Gekko – ‘Service not Sci-fi’ – reveals that UK shoppers would rather deal with real people over robots or artificial intelligence when it comes to shopping.

The study finds that 81% of UK shoppers claim the personal touch has disappeared from retail customer service in modern Britain, with almost a third (32%) blaming an over reliance on technology for this decline. Half of those polled believe that companies in the UK are using technology to save money, rather than improve customer experience.

Only 30% said they would like to see ‘smart pricing’ initiatives adopted by retailers, where prices change in real time depending on demand, 22% smart mirrors that show a 360 view of themselves, 16% a virtual reality changing room, 14% augmented reality to help visualise products in the home and only 9% in favour of a talking robot assistant.

When it comes to buying online, 43% of UK shoppers have had their screen freeze while trying to make a purchase. When asked what makes a great bricks-and-mortar shopping experience, 49% of those polled said it was down to having good staff on the shop floor, staff that know the products and staff that go the extra mile (47%). Coupled with this, 61% of the nation would prefer to deal face-to-face when complaining, 59% when enquiring or trying to find out more about a product and 73% when getting a refund.

A third of Brits say that the personal touch is more likely to make a repeat purchase, and more than a fifth (22%) claim they always spend more money in a shop if they are served by a good assistant, incrementally adding to sales. Over a third (34%) of shoppers stated that a poor experience has driven them to buy from another retailer.

The research also highlights the impact of the decline of the local shop, with a quarter of Brits saying they miss shopping somewhere where people recognise them, 16% confessing they preferred the days when they could talk through a purchase with a someone in-store, and a quarter saying online shopping is less fun than buying something in a real shop. The convenience of a store’s location is also stated as important by 43% of respondents which means that as retailers consolidate their estates, many will notice the effects, further emphasising the need to carefully consider the experience being provided in-store and the staff needed to deliver the experience.

According to the research we waste almost an hour and a half a month – which is 17 hours a year, the equivalent of more than two days at work – interacting with automated technology, only for a human to have to step in and help. Bug bears include getting someone to rectify a problem with the self-service checkout, and ringing customer services and dealing with a recorded voice, only to repeat the details to the person you end up talking to.

Little wonder, then, that 51% of Brits have slammed the phone down during an automated call, as the system didn’t recognise what they were saying. And 47% of shoppers have experienced self-service checkout failure that’s had to be rectified by a shop assistant.

In fact, more than three quarters (77%) of UK shoppers admit they’d much rather use a checkout with a person on it, rather than taking the self-service option. More than 4 in ten (43%) British shoppers would rather speak to a person than an automated system when making a phone enquiry, with almost a quarter (23%) ending up having to complain on social media when their query hasn’t been responded to via the automated service.

Daniel Todaro, managing director of Gekko said: “Everyone is talking about technology and innovation within retail, but our research clearly shows that what consumers really want is the human touch. With traditional retail under more pressure than ever and an astonishing 81% of people feeling that the personal touch has disappeared from shopping, businesses need to focus on the customer experience in these tough trading times to help keep the high street alive.”

The survey was conducted by Ginger Comms in December 2018, speaking to a sample of 1,500 shoppers aged 18+ and representative of the UK population.

Article published on Marketing Industry News

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Retailers, It’s time to be relevant to consumers

Retailer Blog Photo

What’s happening to the British High Street? It is facing record levels of store closures in the first half of 2018. According to research by PWC, on average, 14 stores a day, 4,400 in the first 6 months, are closing their doors with 85,000 jobs lost in the first 9 months of this year. The industries most affected by the closures are fashion and electrical stores. Not far behind them are pubs and restaurants. There are few brands that haven’t been affected with coffee Shops and ice cream parlours accounting to the small amount of store openings.

As a nation of shoppers, why are we turning our back on the high street?

It is predicated that due to the large amount of choice now in the consumer’s hands the way they shop will change. Online shopping is predicated to account for 25% of non-food sales by 2022 which is a 5% increase on what it is today. The consumer now has the ability to shop across a variety of platforms from the high street, e-commerce, m-commerce and social commerce.

The choice to shop this way will increase through generations that grew up with the internet at their fingertips coming of age, working and having disposable income to spend. The generation that grew up with ordering something in the evening and having it delivered to their door the next day may not see the attraction of the high street. As shops close their closest functioning high street might get further away and less appealing to travel to when after a few clicks their product is brought to their door. The impact of online is a self-fulfilling prophecy and once the heart of a community is gone, it’s very difficult to entice it back as many councils are finding Public Houses, Restaurants are also affected due to digitisation – if you can order Italian food to your door are you going to leave to go to a restaurant? In-Home Leisure – If you have a huge TV/Projector, top of the line speakers, streaming service are you going to pay £30 to go to the cinema? Or go to watch the Football in a pub? Supermarkets interestingly do not seem to be affected at the level, perhaps due to people buying their own food to cook at home in line with changing dietary trends and therefore becoming more conscious of eating out?

The impact of the changes being posed may be too late. So what’s being done?

The introduction of a review for all retailers in England with a rateable value of £51,000 or less, intended to cut their business rates bill by one third is a positive step realising an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes.

In some locations this is perhaps too late when you consider the vacant properties on the diminishing high street. The PWC research highlights that London has the highest change between closures and openings with Wales having the lowest. The numbers might be big for London but when you consider the size of some of the high streets in Wales compared to those in London -22 shops could be the closure of a whole High Street.

It also does not help those retailers, multiple or independent, with a larger footprint. For stores which anchor the high street such as Debenhams, HoF, M&S etc. the reduction in business rates for these retailers by local authorities, delivers a longer term tangible wealth to the community.

“This government constantly refers to a ‘dividend’ for all, which is used entirely in the wrong context, as there’s no dividend for communities whose high street have already been decimated and resemble ghost towns.”

What can retailers do for themselves?

The industries that were least affected by the closures such as Ice cream parlours and coffee shops could be down to the public still enjoying the little pleasures in life. It could also be that the brands have realised that consumers are now looking for personalised experiences. Millennials seek out experiences and value experience over material items. Those retailers serving the Instagram generation are offering them locations, products and experiences that are picture worthy and have bragging rights. Acknowledging these trends and the new way people shop are perhaps the key differentiators that have kept them from closure and continue trading successfully.

Although the numbers, for many, paint a negative picture for considered purchases there is still time for them to turn it around. Our research has highlighted that over a third of shoppers still prefer to go to bricks and mortar shops to buy their technology. There are still consumers who want to feel and touch products before purchasing. They are also looking for advice from staff and an immersive experience which some retailers do recognise however sadly many do not and are destined to failure unless they acknowledge and change soon. The investment made in retail by many brands is treatment to this consumer desire.

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Tech industry reactions to the 2018 Budget

PCR Blog Image

On Monday, Philip Hammond has delivered his third Budget as chancellor. Within the speech a number of things were announced that would affect tech companies and retailers in the UK.

Here’s what the tech and retail channels had to say about the announcements:

Business rates bill

Hammond announced the business rates bill for firms with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will be cut by a third over two years.

Dan Todaro, MD of Gekko: “The introduction of a review for all retailers in England with a rateable value of £51,000 or less, Intended to cut their business rates bill by one third is a positive step realising an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes.

“In some locations this is perhaps too late when you consider the vacant properties on the diminishing high street. It also does not help those retailers, multiple or independent, with a larger footprint. For stores which anchor the high street such as Debenhams, HoF, M&S etc. the reduction in business rates for these retailers by local authorities, delivers a longer term tangible wealth to the community.

“This government constantly refers to a ‘dividend’ for all, which is used entirely in the wrong context, as there’s no dividend for communities who’s high street have already been decimated and resemble ghost towns.”

For the full article please visit PCR

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The best place for the home to get smart is on the high street

It’s no surprise that the Smart Home dominated last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with a whole range of evolution and innovation across security, home appliances and energy management. The trend has no doubt been expedited by the huge success of intelligent assistants with Google announcing that their Home devices sold over 6 million units, that’s one every second, and now Google Assistant runs on over 400 third party devices globally.

Many brands, such as Samsung, have opted to support their brands by integrating their own technology. Its lesser-known Bixby Assistant was integrated into its Smart Fridge with AKG speakers, making it a multimedia centre for the kitchen. Kholer showcased its intelligent bathroom ‘Konnect tech’ enabling your shower, bathtub, toilet, mirror and tap to be connected, both to you and each other. The company’s Touchless Response technology provides hands-free toilet flushing, perfect for those germophobes.

The market is evolving and in 2018 it will start to get a lot more crowded as the category grows from Amazon and Google offering their own speakers in a variety of form factors but also Google, Alexa and Siriin other hardware brands like Sonos. Sonos have already released the Sonos One with Alexa, and they have hopes to integrate Siri and Google Assistant soon. Apple’s HomePod will hit homes but Siri offers some weak competition as it struggles to develop its voice recognition. Yamaha, Libratone, and DTS all announced Alexa driven smart speakers this year, with SonyPhilips and LG announcing Google Assistant integration into their smart products.

And here lies the problem. Confused already? Indeed. Understand what’s compatible with what system? Probably not. Do you know if your Ring Video Doorbell can be hooked up to your Google Home, so you can speak to any visitors without having your smart phone to hand? If you’re reading this, you probably work in marketing and are classed an early adopter. Imagine what it’s like for everyone else seeing and hearing about these products everywhere they go and no idea what to do and how to integrate them.

Smart Home retail value is expected to reach £5.11bn worldwide this year and according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while online sales continue to rise, e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales in December 2017 was still only 18%. We also know that a Smart Home device in many instances requires an assisted sale. It’s a considered purchase and for some, a rather complicated buying process with further concerns about installation and integration with existing technology.

This is a great opportunity for traditional retailers to excel and showcase why they are still the best channel for selling ‘technology’ products using the retail environment to educate, engage and sell to the consumer through driving excitement and experience directly with the brand.

Our own research shows that even among today’s tech savvy 18 to 24-year-olds, more than 40% prefer to head in-store to see, touch and experience a product before buying, rising to 58% for the over 55s. Most surprising is that 38% of 18 to 24-year-olds want a personal service and recommendation from in-store staff, the highest among of all the age categories.

When we asked what advertising has influenced a considered purchase, none of the mainstream advertising channels were cited as influential: just 7.5% for TV, 8.7% for website, 4.6% for social media, 3% for billboard and 2% for newspaper and print. Advertising in-situ within the retail environment however was rated the key influencing factor at 19%.

This is a clear signal that traditional retailers should spend time and money working with staff on the shop floor and make the consumer experience as good as it can be as it will pay for itself through category development and increased sales at a higher average sales price – a win win for both retailer and brand.

Click here to read the article on The Drum

 

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Positive news for UK retail

Recent yearly results published by Dixons Carphone are good news for all retailers, whether multiple or independent.

Despite price increases and decreasing consumer confidence following the Brexit vote, Dixons has been able to beat the downward trend, increasing pre-tax profits by 10 per cent and like-for-like sales by four per cent compared with 2016.

Looking at the whole of the UK, some key categories have seen lower sales. With TV, for example, seeing a 14.9 per cent unit sales decrease last year, it’s positive news for UK retail that the number-one consumer electronics retailer is proving that consumers are still heading to the high street to buy household tech.

As an agency that represents tech brands in UK retailers, including Dixons Carphone, Gekko’s results in-store agree with theirs, with sales having increased by 5.6 per cent relative to the same period in 2016.

One category that has been particularly significant in improving results for tech retail has been the smart home. Still a growing sector, expected to be worth $58.47 billion (£45.3bn) globally by 2020, the smart home is enthusing consumers to upgrade their appliances and home technology.

In a recent campaign for a smart-home brand, Gekko’s training team created a 68 per cent uplift in knowledge among store staff, which helped deliver a healthy 36 per cent sales uplift in the following weeks.

For independent retail, the strong results seen by Dixons Carphone set an optimistic tone. Gekko knows that 74 per cent of consumers prefer to shop in-store, because it allows them to see, touch and experience the product before buying. Dixons’s results show that consumers are still heading to the high street when looking to purchase a high-ticket item.

These ‘considered purchases’ – products that shoppers need time to think about before deciding it’s right for them – require that additional assistance only found in physical retail.

To match the large retailers in their success, independents need to create a welcoming, ‘showroom’-style atmosphere that will encourage shoppers to try out products before they buy.

A conversation with knowledgeable store staff can easily transform a browser into a customer. Developing categories, such as the smart home, are important areas for potential growth.

Set your store apart by offering shoppers an experience they can’t find in larger retailers, and you too can see these positive results.

Read more at: http://ertonline.co.uk/opinion/positive-new-for-uk-retail/

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Sunday Trading – The 7 Day Shopper

sunday trading banner

The rise and fall of the UK high street is well-documented and never far from the news agenda. With retailers scrutinising sales figures and competition being fierce, extending opening hours across Sunday could be a vital first step to rejuvenating the high street and beyond this, the UK economy.

Unlike any nation in Western Europe, the UK is unique in that we like to shop, whilst other nations shop out of necessity, we in the UK like to make our retail therapy more of a sociable brand experience. For a long time now people in the UK have used Sundays as they do Saturdays – to carry out one of their favourite hobbies and pastimes, shopping.

George Osbourne’s recent announcement to shake up Sunday trading laws comes as no surprise. In our current consumer climate, purchases are firmly becoming ‘any place, any time’ and Sunday is no longer an exception to this. Combining the rise of consumer appetite with the reality that people lead extremely busy lifestyles means people want to have the choice to shop for more than six hours.

We are witnessing a shift in the way consumers are buying their goods. There is a lot to be said about people moving online, however a recent article from Forbes reported a 95 per cent of retail purchases worldwide are still being made in-store. This alone should be enough to make the retail industry step up and cater to shopper demand.

As well as ensuring they are adapting to customers developing shopping habits, for retailers, the change in Sunday trading laws is an open door of opportunity. Although we should consider those individuals who want to keep Sunday as a sacred day, looking at this from a commercial point of view – this is all about maintaining a strong, healthy economy in our 24/7 lifestyle, the balance is for retailers to make it work respectfully for everyone’s benefit and lifestyle choices.

Currently in some communities or high streets, stores choose not to open due to the high cost of staffing and overheads costing retailers money instead of making a profit. The laws give retailers the ability to create thousands of jobs through the same trading hours offered the rest of the week, having the option to bring staff in and pay them for longer than 6 hours of work and generate millions of pounds in extra income.

Not only will the changes mean more money in people’s pockets, they will help to boost the UK economy and in a sense help reinvigorate communities and the high street.

The shake up of trading laws is not surprising as sticking to traditional, some say outdated laws, links back to a consumer world that ultimately no longer is reflective of the UK’s lifestyle and desire to shop whenever and wherever they like.

 

Read more at: http://bit.ly/1IGTLVD

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Who Can Save Our Faltering High Streets? Why Not the Mega-Brands?

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The plight of the UK High Street is well-documented. With countless retailers closing and sales figures dwindling year on year, the High Street question is one that many are keen to answer before a great British institution disappears before our eyes. HMV and Jessops were given last-minute reprieves when faced with the gallows, but as we move forward it’s inevitable that more big names will fall upon the hardest of times, with fewer being granted a second chance.
 
There have been a number of solutions mooted as means for saving the High Street. A government minister has also suggested consolidating retail spaces within towns by converting empty units into affordable housing. What’s clear is that initiatives are sorely needed to truly bring life back to dead commercial business districts, so here’s an idea:  Why not ask major brands to sponsor the High Street? Many may feel that it’s perhaps about time corporations demonstrated a bit of social responsibility and gave back to the communities from which they profit so ostensibly.
 
With the point of purchase increasingly becoming ‘any place, any time,’ the emphasis shifts to experience – the need for brands to curate spaces dependent not entirely on sales, but immersive, engaging environments. Environments that consumers can spend time in without any obligation, experience the brand and perhaps become a long-term advocate tied-in on an emotional level.
 
With this in mind, why shouldn’t the biggest brands think bigger? Under the term umbrella branding, the P&Gs, GSKs and Unilevers of the world have all made moves in recent times to bring their masterbrands to the fore and develop a relationship with consumers for the first time in their histories. So why not think beyond single retail units and engage their wider portfolio to create a real immersive experience that also gives back to the community at the same time? Cellular carriers have done this to great effect, as have some CE brands. Of course, I can’t fail to mention Apple, the most profitable retailer by square footage, which Microsoft is presently trying to emulate in the US.
 
Take Unilever, a global masterbrand that has made a concerted effort to place social responsibility at the heart of its operations. Notably, its ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ sits front and centre within the organisation’s modern-day mission and is deemed a ‘strategic response to the challenges our world faces.’ Furthermore, it has partnered with D&AD to create a brand new award, the White Pencil, for the best example of design and creativity that has social good at its core and sets purpose above profit.
 
Unilever has a vast portfolio of brands, including Marmite, Walls, Lynx, Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Persil to name just a few. According to the figures, it holds over 400 brands worldwide with over two billion consumers using them daily. So why couldn’t they utilize these brands and take over empty retail units? It would both promote the shared ideals and values of the Unilever proposition, but also deliver a unique experience that our towns desperately need.
 
Furthermore, in addition to retail units allocated to various brands within the portfolio, retail space could also be offered to small businesses and students, in order to showcase and sell their products and talents. The current environment makes it challenging for entrepreneurs to start up and an investment from a brand would provide both a valuable platform for budding business owners and also a little bit of hope, too. Plus, such an investment would be a very small price to pay for the opportunity to create a High-Street-wide brand experience.
 
Lastly, much debate has centred upon local communities becoming increasingly homogenized and such a move would go a long way to sparking some life back into our towns. The High Street is so much more than the point of purchase and it’s vital not just to our economy, but also to our society. What better way to engage a community than by injecting some belief, inspiration and positive energy into a struggling economy?
 
Although the burden of responsibility appears to be a hot potato at times, the seeds of social consciences are still sprouting and emerging. It requires bold thinking, indeed, but, in light of tax scandals and ethical controversies, it offers an opportunity for such brands to truly put their money where their mouths are, give back and perhaps change the shape of the High Street for new generations.

Read the full article at http://www.brandingmagazine.com/2013/09/20/mega-brands/

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