Tag Archives: Innovation

Five Key Factors Set To Drive The Retail Sector This Year

With the annual January sales melee almost over what does the rest of 2022 hold in store for the retail sector?

It’s a sector that’s weathered the global pandemic, huge changes in consumer attitudes and a spike in technology, not the least of which is the buzzword of the moment – metaverse.

So we asked Tom Harwood, Data and Insight Manager at retail field marketing and customer experience experts, Gekko, for his take on what trends are likely to impact retail in 2022…

Tom Hardwood gekko
Tom Harwod, Isnight Manager, Gekko

Having adapted to the hurdles they have faced so well over the past 18 months, it’s clear that this year retailers must keep innovating in this changing market to ensure their omni-channel and consumer experiences are exceptional, while also embracing the interests and topics on the mind of today’s shopper. 

Here are five key factors impacting retail that businesses should take note of to thrive in 2022.

Supply and demand

The well documented supply chain issues that have impacted retailers and other sectors across the country have been a tough hurdle to overcome and it is likely that into 2022 we will still be feeling the knock on effects in some quarters. 

It has, however, highlighted a positive for the industry in that it is clear there is consumer demand and the appetite to shop has returned with consumers in the market to purchase back to pre pandemic levels, and in many cases more than. 

Even while most restrictions have been lifted in the UK, there is still an element of pent up seasonal excitement across the sector, particularly as those same issues have limited certain stocks, leading to increased hype within certain product categories.

The importance of forecasting for your peaks in 2022 and planning inventory accordingly is critical and effective early planning will make sure that you are ahead of the competition at the most important times.

Retail stores and customer experiences

It is well known that the e-commerce share of the retail market was greatly accelerated by the pandemic. 

However it consistently fell after physical stores reopened in April 2021 and is now hovering at the 27% mark as of October according to the ONS. 

For this year, the return of bricks and mortar retail does not mean it can afford to rest on its laurels when it comes to innovating to reflect the new normal and fully embracing the omni-channel concept.

retail - mind the knowledge gap gekko
Time to shop: Retail sector has opportunities and issues to address in the year ahead.

In-store experiences can be re-imagined in a multitude of ways. 

In our recent consumer research, we found that 85% of shoppers are now doing research on a product or brand before heading into store, so ensuring the online and offline integration is faultless has never been more important. 

Even if a customer has decided to buy online, the physical store can still act as a collection or returns hub, importantly still drawing more footfall and further positive brand interactions.

We are now at a stage where the store itself can serve as a portal to e-commerce, as well as a place where customers can interact with a brand’s products. 

With 58% of shoppers saying that it is important to them to be able to see and touch a product before a purchase, the significance of the store shall not diminish. 

It is just that the spaces themselves will evolve into more experiential experiences for consumers.

This experience is not only about how the store presents itself, but also the staff within it. 

Our survey found that 45% of Gen Z customers will seek out great advice in-store, bearing in mind that this is a knowledgeable generation, particularly when it comes to tech products, and the importance of having knowledgeable staff on hand to engage with this valuable demographic is clear. 

2022 retail Forecast 4

In fact, 37% across all ages were willing to spend more on an electrical product if they experienced excellent service in store.

In 2022, stores can be more than just what the customer needs it to be. They can offer truly memorable, loyalty-gaining experiences that drive engagement and, most importantly, are fun to visit.

Sustainability and retail

We move onto the wider issue of sustainability, and this year it will continue to hold an increasingly prominent place in the mind of the consumer. 

The fact is that meeting this criteria with shoppers is not quite as simple as it was before, so for success in this field for 2022, there are certain areas that should be addressed. 

Along with climate related goals, consumers also continue to look for purchases that have the power to give back to their local communities or charities. 

According to NielsenIQ, “Do I need this?” will be one of the pivotal questions among shoppers for 2022, with gifts that offer positive experiences or donations on the up. 

Retailers would do well to keep their eye out for local initiatives they can partner with their customers in order to show support and solidarity.

Actions are positive, but communication also needs to be on point, as sustainability is such a broad topic there are often more questions than answers, but brands that are clear with their objectives and true to their core principles will resonate best with consumers.

Returns

While not the most exciting aspect of the shopping experience by any means, it is predicted that returns will increasingly be one of the key differentiating factors between retailers this year. 

Retailers that want to be at the forefront of this will need to invest in the processes that make this a positive experience for consumers.

For example, according to research by Forrester, three in five consumers prefer retailers that offer free return shipping. 

This quality of life offering encourages people to purchase safely in the knowledge that there will be a stress-free experience in case the product isn’t quite what they were anticipating.

If a return does happen, it is important that the process collects relevant information at all stages, the data from which can help reduce the overall issue in the long run.

The metaverse and in-store technology

Facebook’s recent announcement that it is moving to a “metaverse” focus has pushed the term into the public eye and comes as part of a wider conversation about technology within retail.

metaverse Image by Pete Linforth of Pixabay

We have already seen an increasing amount of collaborations between brands or celebrities with gaming platforms, for example Travis Scott’s virtual concerts within the Fortnite gaming world caught the imagination of many and opened up his music to a huge audience. 

It is likely that this year we see further iterations of retail services within metaverse spaces, no doubt with the world’s largest brands vying to assert the most influence from the beginning.

New technology will also help those on the shop floor. 

As we have seen, 37% of customers are specifically looking for knowledgeable assistance in stores, and with access to the right technology, staff will be able to assist in the customer journey across all channels and have the data at hand to make it a personalised journey.

Having been successfully reactive during the pandemic, it is time for businesses to look forward and find the opportunities to exceed consumers’ continually evolving needs. 

The brands that manage to do this seamlessly across all channels, while embracing fresh insights and new technologies, will be on the front foot this year and beyond.

To read the full article please visit Mediashotz

Photo by Adrian Agawin from Pexels

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The Future of Video Game Retailers

Video game stores have for some years faced the dilemma of how to diversify their offering to stay afloat in a market evolving to become primarily a digital one. Since the launch of the “next generation of consoles” back in 2006, digital downloadable games have been available through the marketplaces of Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo on their respective consoles. However, initially, the list of games available to download was quite limited which benefited retailers as it would not take away business from them. 

Fast forward to 2013 and the next generation of consoles were released. The release of these new consoles brought a brand new, more reliable system in place to download full video games over the internet. The ability to download full games happened on the previous generation however, numerous factors attributed to its rather low popularity as it did not have the stability and the large selection of games as it does on the console’s successor. 

GAME’s game-changing new direction

The PS4 & Xbox One were game-changers in driving interest in digital games. This meant retailers had to diversify their offerings to provide more than just consoles and video games. For example, GAME is now selling Gaming PCs and a lot more accessories for all gaming platforms. On top of this, they provide access in-store to the Belong Arenas which are equipped with all of the latest consoles and gaming PCs with room for around 6 people to game. GAME is a prime example of a company successfully diversifying its business model to become a more experienced/service-based company. This is due to the nature of the video game market and its continuous push towards the all-digital era.

The new direction GAME is taking features a better value proposition. Martyn Gibbs, Chief Executive Officer recently described  BELONG, the Group’s esports and experience-based gaming proposition as “core to our transformation strategy and we continue to expand the business through the opening of larger BELONG gaming arenas while improving our GAME Retail offer to fully capitalise on the strong growth potential in the esports market.” (Waller-Davies, 2018)

This has proven to be successful in driving footfall to their stores with the gaming arenas as proven by the positive recent trading results.

COVID’s accelerating impact on digital transformation

Clearly, a huge impact on the video game retail industry as with all retail was the dramatic impact of COVID. Not solely due to the fact stores were closed, more so due to the change in lifestyle, most people had to adapt to. Logan Plant from IGN described COVID-19 as “not an instigator for the rise of digital media, but simply an accelerator of a trend we’ve seen take shape throughout the last console generation.” (Plant, 2021). Working from home became the norm for 1+ years and subsequently, a lot of businesses had to change how they operated to take advantage of the customers/consumers being stuck at home.

The impact of COVID was a record-breaking year for digital sales of video games. Sony also revealed that nearly 63 per cent of its “full game” sales for the 2020 calendar year came via digital downloads rather than games sold on discs at retail. 

As a result of COVID’s accelerating impact, it is important to reevaluate the current proposition and business direction of video games retailers. The current moves console developers are making into the all-digital era are having a dramatic impact on the performance of bricks and mortar retailers. A significant development happened in 2020 when the latest consoles were released (PS5 & Xbox Series X). These new consoles were released with a cheaper variant; a disk tray-free model with a cheaper price tag available from launch. This highlights the increasing dominance of the digital era and the ongoing decline of physical sales.

Owen Good from Polygon described it in stark terms: “The implication is clear: Video game fans, stuck at home, with the ability to make one-click purchases for entertainment to pass time, will do so in amounts up to the price of a full game.” (Good, 2020)

As an avid Gamer myself who has been a loyal customer of GAME since I could remember my weekends used to involve regular trips to pick up a new game or the latest console at the time. Interacting and talking with knowledgeable staff members was a huge part of the experience.

Embracing an experience-centric playbook

Despite knowledgeable in-store staff that can assist and support the customer journey, the gaming industry has changed to be a primarily digital one. However, despite this reality, there’s still a significant percentage of customers purchasing physical copies of video games. Yet the online giants such as Amazon have further eroded this market, offering next day delivery on the same selection of physical video games that high street retailers offer at a discounted price. 

The same situation is happening with Gamestop, in an article covering which companies would Amazon effect, it stated Gamestop “historically has made its money by serving as the middleman, but the game publishing industry’s move toward downloads and away from discs and cartridges is increasingly making the venue less of a destination for gamers.” (Brumley, 2019).

This of course reduces the need to pop into town and purchase a game. Additionally, on top of the physical video game competitors, each of the gaming platforms also have their own store integrated into the console where you can purchase digital copies of any game on that platform. Digital games usually have a higher RRP, however, they are usually heavily discounted during sales.

In conclusion, it’s clear to see that for retail stores to drive more footfall they need to reposition themselves and expand what they offer as a business. GAME have taken this in their stride and expanded their traditional offering of physical Video Games and Consoles to offer an immersive customer experience including VR, the opportunity to play video games with your friends in the Belong arenas, purchase fully built gaming PC’s along with the necessary accessories and gaming merchandise such as POP Vinyls or plushies. It has been proven that GAME’s new direction has driven footfall and has been profitable for them too. In order to win in the future and remain relevant, it’s time for video games retailers to embrace an ‘experience-centric’ playbook.

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

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

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

Mind the knowledge gap

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

Golden opportunity

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

Gen Z

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

1) Invest in experts

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

2) Engage the senses and think price

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

3) Joined up brand experience

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

To read the full article please visit PCR

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

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IFA Bis Nachher!

IFA Berlin has been a feature in my calendar for many years, and since 2015 I have been reviewing the event for ERT.
Unfortunately the 2021 incarnation didn’t happen as many brands were pulling out and therefore made the event unviable, but I’m confident that the show will be back with a bang next year!
To quote the organisation itself “IFA in Berlin presents the latest products and innovations in the heart of Europe’s most important regional market. Only IFA offers such a comprehensive overview of the international market and attracts the attention of visitors from more than 130 countries each year”. Looking back to 2019, LG showcased its Roll, the OLED TV that rolled neatly into its own cabinet to disappear from view. Here in 2021, it is now available to buy at a princely price of just over £100,000, which is of course out of the reach of most people. However, an important consideration is, would it have ever been conceived if it wasn’t intended to be a showstopper at IFA? Whatever the reasons LG chose to create this stunning piece of kit, the brand has paved the way for others to now copy the concept and intrinsically bring the average price down to make it the de facto TV form factor for many.
So proof in point that IFA is the innovation hot spot that drives brands to go deeper and further in understanding what consumers may need before they even realise it, creating categories and technology which will in time become commonplace to all.

Smart Everywhere


In 2015 the buzz was the smart home and there were many who huddled around brand displays at IFA gasping at what was possible with connected devices. Each year the innovation developed and today it’s almost nonsensical to consider that any home doesn’t have or want smart devices – from TVs and voice-activated speakers, to security and entertainment solutions – in their possession.
Taking a whistle-stop-tour of the years and it’s a similar story of innovation, but a progressive journey for the Berlin showcase to evolve into something fresh, never boring or the same. Those exhibitors never failed to deliver a great experience and their immense pride in showcasing their new technology was clearly evident.
Surprise and delight did many brands from all categories, and in 2016 it was LG which outdid everybody with its walk-through 4K display tunnel. This took the visitor on a truly immersive journey of LG technology with a beautifully executed experience that became the undisputed talking point of the event that year.


Voice Of The Future


Moving on to IFA 2017, I reported that the ‘vibe’ was one of progress, a move forward, improving what is already available, innovating through integration to bring the smart home closer to normality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) truly recognised by consumers as no longer being the domain of fantasy but reality, with compatibility across more products. This became rapidly more realistic over the following two years.
In 2018, Google’s Assistant was all over Berlin as more and more brands were building voice activation into their products. Assistant-enabled products were popping up across a host of categories. From laundry with Hoover Candy, cooking with Electrolux, to smart watches from TicWatch, thermostats from Netatmo, and doorbells from Ring, the tech also extended to TVs from Toshiba, Hisense, LG and Panasonic. The dominance of voice assistants was most definitely the story that year.
Building on this in 2019 was the prevalence of voice control and AI-controlled products. Almost every brand and category has either one or both of the two leading voice assistants becoming inbuilt and connected, increasing the smart home ecosystem across almost every device, MDA and wearable.
What voice has done to bring AI and smart technology into consumers’ lives is quite possibly one of the most disruptive technologies to have been created, changing how we interact with our technology, its interface and what it can do for us from a social and macro perspective. This was evident in the exhibition at IFA 2020 – which was an extremely smaller, intimate and socially-distanced affair. The event organisers had done a superb job at keeping the CE industries key event open, albeit just to trade visitors and not the general public. The effects of the pandemic were recognised and obvious as a driver of investment in R&D. The key shout-outs last year set a trend for brands seeking to be the first choice for consumers to integrate with their smart home.


See You In 2022!


If you consider that in the five years that I’ve been writing about IFA, excluding 2021, the average attendance per year is 245,000 with an estimated 150,000 coming from trade to visit the almost 1,800 exhibitors. It’s an awesome show on a scale that makes it on par, if not better, than its transatlantic rival.
The need for IFA to return in 2022 in its original format is essential for the industry, however I fear the savings made over two years may encourage many brands to scale back attendance and investment. This approach will inevitably mean a new format and potentially a hybrid event on a smaller scale. The impact of this approach may not only hold back creativity and innovation, but also the ability for start-ups and consumers to be inspired to carry the wave of technological innovation.
Whatever becomes the format for 2022, creating a space like IFA to bring innovation together and measure the reaction of your peers and consumers is key in the evolution of categories – existing and new. What the pandemic achieved for brands was an opportunity to reset, rethink and enhance their proposition to meet the needs of people’s changing lifestyles, which as a result have become ‘normal’. The use of home technology has been impacted immensely, with adapted living spaces supporting various changes in lifestyle. And IFA is crucial to this development.
I hope to see you and maybe several hundred thousand more in Berlin, 2-6 September 2022 at the most inspiring global tech event imaginable!

Article published by ERT

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Staying afloat in the storm of the century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carefully consider the customer in this new age of retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the full article please visit ERT Magazine.

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

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

Every business has been forced to change in the past year, it doesn’t matter the industry you are in. Retail is no different, but unlike others, it has always been a dynamic industry at the forefront of responding to consumer trends and the manner in which people want to consume things. Retailers have always understood they are at the vanguard of that change. This past year has truly focused the mind on this and the need for innovation like never before.

It’s not just about entirely new initiatives. Many trends that were already taking place have had their roll out compressed from years to months. Here are five innovations that the pandemic has speeded up that can offer a pathway to sustained growth to those who take advantage.

1. Click and collect

There is renewed and growing enthusiasm for click and collect. In part that’s linked to the general increase in online shopping but it’s also because of the convenience and importantly the hygienic, social distancing aspects. A pandemic trend that is set to stay, it is now an embedded part of many consumer journeys, especially in grocery shopping, but also increasingly in all non-essential retail. Our own research has shown that over 35% of people want to see this trend continue even after the pandemic. Click and collect certainly appeals to more sustainability-focused customers. These shoppers want to shop online but also have a focus on sustainability with concerns about the environmental impact of the deliveries in terms of the distance travelled and packaging. Retailers should think about how to maximise the opportunity to boost profitability. An obvious example being upselling products in a collection environment.

2. Using Augmented Reality to assist big ticket purchases

As we can see from the figures post-lockdown, physical retail has an enduring appeal with huge pent up demand being realised. However with more consumers having been forced to buy higher ticket items online, smart brands are looking at new technology to fuse the offline and online world and assist sales. Ikea is a brand that has always focused on innovation and disrupting the traditional retail experience. They made a smart play last year, acquiring AR imaging startup Geomagical Labs. The intention was to drive shoppers to purchase more big-ticket items without always needing to visit a store. Its technology allows a user to quickly scan a room using any smartphone, render that into a panoramic 3D picture in a few minutes, remove all the furniture in it and then add in new items to scale, helping shoppers picture products ‘in-situ’. This will be implemented by Ikea into its website and apps to let people start to create accurate visualisations of their spaces, and how they would look with Ikea pieces in them. While the technology remains nascent, other retailers should definitely take note.

3. Joining up the omni-channel experience

Ecommerce has been a big winner from this past year with millions more now comfortable with shopping online. However the experience remains disappointing for many. A recent survey by Ayden found that more than two thirds (68%) of Brits say they will now not shop with organisations if they had a bad experience either online or in store (an increase of 18% since June 2020). Meanwhile, 53% believe retailers need to do more to link their physical and online stores. Invariably the offline and online experience is not joined up and inconsistent. Too often the focus online is based on the ‘what’, product specs, price etc without thinking about the ‘why’ a consumer wants a product. Smart retailers and brands know it shouldn’t be the ‘channel’ that is the focus but the customer experience, which is then realised across all its touchpoints. Starting with an audit across all channels, brands need to ensure they are visible and joined up. The evidence shows brands who are joined up have succeeded over the past year.

4. Training the experts at scale

A key element of the formula for success instore is a shopper’s engagement with retail sales advisors. Are they proactive, helpful, skilful, knowledgeable, and capable of providing a personalised experience? This is something the online experience can’t replicate and physical retailers need to capitalise upon. Much is down to individuals, their training and management the retailer provides, but when it comes to talking about a brand and its products it is vital they are informed, motivated and most importantly advocates. This is often down to brand led initiatives and while in the past these experiences were provided in person, the pandemic has forced new innovative ways through virtual training being offered with face to face communication not being possible. For example Gekko has developed a new digital learning and engagement platform for brands to talk directly with Retail Sales Advisors, allowing them to choose when and how they learn, with gamification and incentives driving uptake. It’s meant we have been able to train many more staff members and have far more impact. While we will still be visiting face to face – a hybrid model will be our new way of doing business. A bit like peoples’ changed working arrangement, it’s taken a major event to force through a sensible and more efficient way of doing business.

5. The advisor’s new domain – the video call as well as the shopfloor

While digital methods are proving successful to train more instore experts at scale, the digital world can also be utilised to provide direct expert assistance to those making a considered purchase. Curry’s are one brand who tried a new approach during the pandemic with the ShopLive service offering expert advice to assist the sales process. A popup appears asking if you need buying advice, but rather than the experience being a frustrating one with a generic chatbot, shoppers can then start a one way video call with one of their experts. ShopLive now has over 800 ‘tech-perts’, aiding customers through their essential tech purchases. Each new expert goes through two days of specialist training to ensure they can help customers with every tech query. While a face to face conversation with a live product demo and test will always be the best way of answering any customers’ needs, this certainly can aid the sales process for those who would still rather not venture out or can’t for any reason.

Despite the atypical nature of the past year, we have seen many retailers react to the adversity with typical dynamism. The changes and digital transformation that has taken place will in the long run only be a good thing for the industry. A lot of the confident retailers have really begun to find their voice and discover a new way to navigate these uncertain, but exciting waters.

To read the full article please visit Bdaily.

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

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Five positive signposts on the road to retail recovery in 2021

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

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

Weathered and tested

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

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

A shot in the arm for consumer confidence

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

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

Retailers have embraced an omnichannel strategy

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

Pent-up demand for physical retail experience

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

Capitalising on the new trend of ‘shopping with purpose’

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

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

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

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

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

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

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

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

The new nature of shopping

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

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

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

The voice

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

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

Don’t lose your touch

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

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

Leave a lasting memory

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

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

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

To read the full article please visit Branding Mag.

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

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How Brands Can Still Engage the Senses in a Socially Distant World

The ability to engage all the senses has been an integral part of building brands for the past hundred years, particularly luxury ones. Yet the separating nature of the pandemic and the rise of ecommerce means they are in danger of losing their ability to engage all the senses. In a world of stay at home measures, social distancing and reduced browsing opportunities, brands need a new approach.

The immersive luxury experience

Luxury brands have always succeeded through their ability to provide an immersive experience for consumers. From wonderful lighting, an alluring product display and a beautiful carpet underfoot, all set in a glamorous location. Of course complemented by the soothing voice of a sales expert who provides a customer with their full undivided attention. It is a magic formula that helps make a premium price tag seem justified, enhancing a brand’s reputation.

But in a world where populations have been forced to retreat behind doors and spend more time behind screens, the world of luxury has been forced into retreat. These intangible brand qualities simply can’t be replicated in the information heavy online world. The figures paint a stark picture. Worldwide the sector is set to contract by a fifth in 2020. Burberry is perhaps a brand more advanced in e-commerce approach to high end retail. Yet, the company saw a decline in profits of an estimated 80% coming in at £42m for the six months to September. Other luxury brands have also felt the pain. Mulberry has recently announced it may have to close its London stores.

So in a world of social distancing, how can brands adapt and still create memorable customer experiences leading to sales? Particularly in a world where our opportunities to physically touch and engage with brands have been so reduced. A customer has to be taken on a journey, their imagination needs to be fired up and enough interest and excitement should be created to inspire them to make a purchase.

The trusted voice of an expert

Key to this is ‘voice’: Product knowledge and brand advocacy amongst retail sales staff are crucial components to success. Having an advisor who truly understands the product and can close a sale is key, even if this is on the phone in a world of dramatically reduced football. We have also identified a clear pandemic trend of ‘shopping with purpose’ when retail is allowed to open. People are looking to make less trips but ensure they have something to show for it. Therefore a human expert who has the empathy to respond to a customer’s specific needs should be deployed to maximum effect. This is something that cannot be replicated with product information on a website. With these advisors the key advocate for the brand – the process of training these experts needs to be thought through.

Advising the advisors

In a world of social distancing, the way to engage these advisors needs to be reimagined, adhering to covid secure protocols. Brands should focus on reaching these experts through virtual methods. Without the ability to deliver a message face to face, they need to make the experience as immersive and engaging as possible. Training should be gamified and linked to rich online content from their websites.

In a single week during the UK’s second lockdown, Gekko engaged with 1,476 participants from a major retailer, all done virtually, covering 6 unique brands across different categories. The inline sessions were created with the audience in mind and covering an average of 24 products the retailer needed to know about because they featured in the retailer’s Black Friday offers. This approach meant we could actually reach more people than we could ever have in person. It activated an army of advocates to help close vital sales.

A new vision for brands

To complement the advisor, the visual experience is more important than ever in a world where browsing opportunities may be reduced due to hygiene measures. Ensure you are able to bring a product to life visually with great lighting, an appealing display and clearly labelled offers. Once they have been enticed in, keep it straightforward, clean, stand back, encourage play (in a covid secure manner) and keep a great conversation going using open questions to find out more about the customer’s likes and dislikes and needs.

When it does come to effectively demonstrating products to shoppers, creative thinking can pay dividends. With some of the limitations indicated above, brands can take the initiative and facilitate the demo experience. In a ‘purpose-driven’ world we’ve been able to see increases of 28% in conversion rate from demo to sale. There is a golden opportunity for brands to engage all the senses with a shopper determined to make a purchase.

Imprinting a memory

Finally brands should ensure they leave a strong imprint on the ‘memory’. The reality is people are far more likely to remember a bad experience with a brand, so ensure you minimise any opportunity for negative feedback. Don’t leave a poor display or have missing product information. Ensure the product is always demo or display ready. No customer should leave disappointed. Even if it isn’t in stock, the advisor should be able to order it online with the customer able to click and collect or have it posted out. Particularly given the customer’s likely desire to minimise further trips.

Similarly the customer journey shouldn’t end at the point of agreeing the sale. Their hand should be held (metaphorically not literally in today’s world), until the transaction. Advisors should also be on hand to answer any follow up questions about the use of the product once taken home. Often these questions only spring to a customer’s mind after the actual sale has been agreed.

The positive engagement with a brand ambassador or retail sales advisor is the glue that binds a customer to a brand for the long term. This is much harder to achieve online and also crucially never as memorable for a customer in a price-driven environment with far more fickle brand loyalty. Being forced to do things differently and really focus on new creative ways to engage customers is no bad thing. Those that are able to do this effectively and engage all the senses will see the benefit when the good times return.

To read the full article please visit Brand Chief.

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