Tag Archives: retail

Coming out of the pandemic – Five lessons from an SME in surviving a crisis

When the pandemic first hit, my thoughts were drawn to the here and now. This involved reforecasting and our cash flow, calculating how long the business could survive and employ staff without any income. However once the dust settled it made me realise there was never a better time to embrace new thinking and how necessity is the mother of all invention. The pandemic has forced new approaches and new ways of thinking that can improve how SMEs can do business. From how we engage with staff to our approach to business and people we work with, to the new products we are developing. I think there have been five ways we have mitigated the worst impact of the pandemic that are good lessons for other SMEs in similar situations.

Supporting staff

My key focus was employee support and motivation so whilst we agreed plans with brands, the workforce needed to be supported to deliver these. Lockdown put the nation under very odd circumstances, unique to everyone and all very personal. We therefore began the process of honest communications, support from a work and personal perspective to help develop coping mechanisms and create clear expectations of working patterns and priorities. We increased training, which ranged from soft skills learning and also included employee support curated with external practitioners in each field to assist the workforce as best we could. These initiatives looked to develop life skills delivered virtually for all staff, these included Coping with Covid sessions, Diversity, equity and inclusion discussions, Mental & Physical Health courses which evolved based on employee feedback, all supported by our weekly Fit for Gekko emails that gave useful information, tips and light hearted advice. As the bedrock of the business during uncertain times we needed to make sure they were looked after and could bounce back strongly when the good times returned. 

Develop new innovative services

Even with some restrictions eased at different points, it became impractical and less safe to send people in store to train staff so we moved at pace to pivot to develop new digital services for brands. This included a digital learning management system for retail sales teams. This is something we had been strategising for a while but the pandemic forced us to rapidly speed up the development. The upshot is we have been able to train many more staff than we would have and created a valued new service which will complement our instore activity. For one brand we have trained over 100,000 retail sales advisors virtually since March 2020 through a mix of live streams and one 2 one virtual sessions. It enabled us to increase our reach by 37%. In meeting the needs of the evolved channel, we have helped diversify our business offering. We also created multiple Engagement Portals for staff in areas ranging from virtual education, online expenses, employee management tools. We will continue to focus on increased investment in data and insight and training and employee engagement. 

Invest in insight and truly knowing your customer

With less live activity with clients, we invested in our Data and Insight team to develop our research market trends, economy and shopper habits. This was critical to support the brands we work with and equip our staff to understand the macro situation better and react. In gaining a better understanding of the state of the nation we created a shared understanding of the challenges ahead and how to overcome them. It has set us up in a good place to understand the challenges of the future and to remain more relevant for our partners and clients.

Cementing relationships in difficult time

Given the difficulties we have all faced, this period has been a perfect opportunity to really cement relationships with partners. We all faced the same challenges and it was a time to show loyalty. In some ways the pandemic provided the glue to bring us all closer. Sadly there have been many examples of businesses who have failed in this regard during this time. But my sense is that this will be remembered by customers and suppliers. Short term financial decisions could have long term implications for brands seen as not helping people during this time. Fortunately the majority of our client base were very supportive of our partnership. However with others I had to hold their feet to the fire a bit. It’s interesting to see how some global brands reacted to suppliers, not all were consistent with their ‘corporate values’ and as an SME you have to be brave and stand your corner. With a sustainable cash flow and supported staff we were able to begin the process of pivoting to meet the immediate needs and changes required to support our brands so that they could continue to operate in the channel and compete.

Never underestimate your staff

I remain optimistic for the future and if we can retain and grow our talent organically, complementing this with more flexible working patterns, I believe we can recover in the next two years to bounce back and exceed the 2019 results. I do think this whole period has speeded up innovative thinking, digital transformation and under the heat of the pressure encouraged agile and dynamic thinking such as the development of new products and services ensuring we serve the needs of clients. On a human level it has of course created an enormous amount of stress, pressure and tragedy for so many and we need to be mindful of staff’s mental health as we return to the office. But ultimately it has made me appreciate that you should never underestimate your staff. 

The hidden talents, resilience and ability to adapt were highlighted amongst the team with the vast majority adapting and delivering irrespective of the situation. It’s easy to see your staff as just ‘employees’ but they are more than that, they are the pulse which makes your business beat and adapt better than perhaps you may have wrongly imagined.

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Group

Article published by SME Business News

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

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How are department stores taking aim at Gen Z shoppers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Daniel Todaro, Managing Director, Gekko Group

Article published by Retail Gazette

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

Absence makes the wallet grow stronger

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

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

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

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

Retailers primed for the discount season

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

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

Christmas shopping starting earlier this year

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

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

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

By Tom Harwood, Data and Insight Manager, Gekko Group

Article published by BDaily

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Be Smart Be Smart Tech Savvy

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

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

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

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

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

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

A key element of the formula for success in store is a shoppers’ engagement with retail sales advisors. Are they proactive, helpful, skilful, knowledgeable, and capable of providing a personalised experience? This is something the online experience can’t replicate and physical retailers need to exploit to their advantage. Much is down to individuals, their training and management the retailer provides, but when it comes to talking about a brand and its products it is vital they are informed, motivated and most importantly advocates. The need to keep up to date is essential in order to capitalise on sales opportunities through trends in smart technology. Many brands have adapted ranges to meet the changing habits of consumers and our increased levels of time spent at home that have seen us cook, clean and entertain ourselves in the home more than we have ever done before. The space we occupy has evolved, we are now not only bothered about how it looks but increasingly also about how it works as a space to live in. This will no doubt ease once we come out of restrictions but changes are likely to stick.

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

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

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

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

As a retailer or reseller, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what you aspire to achieve, and redouble your efforts. Use this personal approach to enhance the customer journey, engaging in the most effective manner possible with your target consumers. This begins with propositions that grab the imagination and reveal the possibilities a smart home can achieve. Explain creatively a story that envelopes the consumer, enough to become a customer through informed choices of Smart Tech purchases that work seamlessly for them and their lifestyle.

*Statista

Article originally published in PCR Magazine

Photo by John Tekeridis from Pexels

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Is a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme enough to boost UK retail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Business mentor Ami Rabheru agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article published by Retail Gazette

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

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

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

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

CX is key to brand loyalty

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

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

Insight informing the customer experience

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

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

Physical retail is back – time to take advantage

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

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

Tom Harwood – Data & Insight Manager Gekko Group

To read the full article please visit Business Mondays

The photo that accompanies this article is by Burst from Pexels

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Carefully consider the customer in this new age of retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the full article please visit ERT Magazine.

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

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

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

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

1. Click and collect

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

2. Using Augmented Reality to assist big ticket purchases

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

3. Joining up the omni-channel experience

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

4. Training the experts at scale

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

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

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

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

To read the full article please visit Bdaily.

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

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How to benefit from the forthcoming massive wave of ad spend

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

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

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

A new determined consumer mindset

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

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

Footfall soars ahead of high-spirited summer

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

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

Staying ahead of the competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Localism remains strong

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

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

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

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

Flaws in online

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

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

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

A hybrid approach

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

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

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

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

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

To read the full article please visit ERT.

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

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