Our CEO Neil Clark shares his thoughts on why the retail industry needs to embrace change and technology.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” This quote could apply to any profession, any market, or any business. But, in the current climate, it seems most pertinent for the retail sector and, in particular, bricks and mortar retail.
The battle between those with a physical storefront and those who operate online is nothing new, yet the sudden emergence of COVID-19 has intensified that rivalry and for many has widened the gap between the two, as those who would ordinarily shop on the high street were forced to head to their browser.
You only need to look at recent news amongst the high street to see the challenges facing many retailers, with a number of high-profile casualties falling at the hands of the global pandemic. Yet, it’s not the same story for everyone. Those who follow the mantra that ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’ are the brands that are willing to throw out the formula book, embrace change, keep their finger on the industry pulse and stay in tune with changing trends.
By remaining agile and in tune with what’s going on around them – whether that’s in store or online – retailers can propel themselves ahead of their online-only competition and, more importantly, remain relevant.
However, it’s no easy task. According to the World Retail Congress, the UK has the third-highest number of online shoppers in the world by percentage – with almost 80% of the population now shopping online. Bricks and mortar retailers therefore have an enormous challenge to compete and maintain the relevance on the high street.
The key lies in embracing change. Going into a store should no longer be just a transactional process, consumers can (and do) get that online, it instead needs to be experiential. Online retailers have pace and convenience on their side, but what they don’t have is the ability to create a physical space that brings a brand alive; a social experience that delivers unrivalled interaction – part of a day out! Through technology, retailers can create a blank ‘digital canvas’ in store that allows them to build brand engagement and, with it, drive footfall and revenue. So, how can it be done?
It’s fair to say that bricks and mortar retail cannot compete with online in terms of stock levels and price, so they have to do things differently. Creating a digital in store space gives them the ability to do that – an experience that’s desirable and one that’s more akin with a tourist attraction rather than a retail environment. What’s more, the digital experience is not exclusive to in store, but can envelop the outside of a building too, enabling a retailer to push the brand externally using vivid imagery and video – capturing the attention of shoppers walking by.
Add value to your brands
Digital displays present retailers with a unique ability to update content instantly. At the touch of a button, an entire store can be turned over to a brand partner for a period of time to highlight a particular range or product – creating a powerful promotional tool. This unique marketing channel allows them to strengthen their relationships with the primary brands they’re working with and provide added exposure at any given time.
Refine the buying journey
Digital technology enables you to create a seamless and subtle buying journey for customers. For example, while exploring a product at an interactive kiosk, it’s possible to deliver complementary messaging on surrounding screens, signage and displays – powerful advertising and brand engagement that helps to guide their buying decision. Further displays, perhaps on the route to the checkout or changing rooms, can further reinforce their decision, helping brands create a unique connection with the buyer.
It’s a simple fact: drab and outdated stores will struggle to maintain relevance. Today’s retail environment needs to be a place where people want to visit and want to spend time. Brands need to continue to innovate and aim to create a destination for shoppers.
An effective and proven example of this is the power and attraction that brand ambassadors have on store footfall. With the instant branding control that digital signage offers, stores can promote in advance celebrity appearances, book signings and special in store events. On the day of the event the whole store becomes a supporting act, with brands, imagery and even the celebrities themselves displayed inside and out.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery
When it comes to the online retail experience, as consumers we’ve become accustomed to the fact that we are constantly targeted by adverts. Any concerns over privacy have long gone as the market has matured and consumers have bowed to the art of retargeting. However, the use of this technology in the physical retail environment is still very much in its infancy. A lot can still be learned from the online world, when it comes to capturing consumer data and using that information to tailor the whole in-store user digital experience – creating an environment that feels more familiar than ever.
The state of the high street has had cause for concern for well over a decade, and the pandemic has only served to accelerate many of those problems. However, now is a time for retail to reset. By embracing change, by accepting that by doing things differently you will generate new and more profitable results, the high street can not only survive COVID-19, but thrive in a new retail environment.