As lockdown eases and we see the high street open its doors once more, for some retailers there is no return to physical store fronts. Earlier in the year Gap announced the closure of all their UK and Ireland stores and a new digital-first business strategy, the likes of Thorntons will never open their doors again, and many high street favourites such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Oasis and Debenhams have been bought out by online-only fashion retailers.
For those retailers ready to bounce back and reopen, what does the brave new world offer them, and what are the opportunities to thrive in a new-digital first culture?
We live in the age of big data. As a retailer it’s likely you’re drowning in data, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Over the last 18 months your consumer’s behaviours and spending patterns have been digitised for you. Now is the opportunity to use this data to your advantage and relay it back into the physical world.
The challenge for many retailers will be centralising their data or connecting it across different systems that aren’t properly connected to one another. Central to this approach is the tooling and technology systems that break down your data silos and enable the holy grail of a single customer view point.
The power of having all your data connected is the ability to truly listen to what your customers want, to segment by geographics, demographics or channels to come up with localised strategies, and to drive and automate the customer experience at every touchpoint.
The pandemic retail experience has changed expectations. Many consumers have grown accustomed to the convenience of online shopping. And many online brands have worked hard to adapt and keep up with the demand for online sales.
As in-person shopping returns, there is huge potential to combine the efficiency and convenience of online shopping with the personalisation and experience of being in a store - enabling consumers to dip in and out of both worlds, and yet still feel connected to both.
For some retailers this could be a ‘try before you buy service’ where you browse items online, and then pre-book a slot at a local store to try them out. When you arrive you are greeted by name, allocated a personal shopping assistant to help you out, and shown to a booth or changing room with your items already laid out and waiting for you. It’s a personal experience, centred around the shopper, all facilitated by a digital-first experience.
A walk-in customer experience depot
Embracing any sort of omnichannel strategy and providing a truly joined up and flawless experience for the customer relies upon your online and offline presence supporting one another.
Online shopping enables quick and easy purchases, but how a customer actually collects their purchase, or returns goods they are unhappy with, can happen through a multitude of channels. For some retailers this could mean turning over more of their physical store areas into drop off and pick up locations.
Take the IKEA model as an example - half the store is a warehouse, and many customers arrive pre-armed with the knowledge of what they want to purchase, the exact aisle it’s found in, and the current stock levels for their product in that particular store. The online and in-person experience enhance one another, all backed up by an intelligent stock management system providing good visibility to the customer and the expectation that you will be able to take the product home at the end of the day.
Bricks and mortar stores are here to stay, and retailers need to acknowledge that they now play a different part in the customer journey. Ecommerce can no longer be seen as an alternative to the in-person shopping experience, the two must become integrated as part of an overarching digital strategy. Of course incorporating a digital-first approach won’t happen overnight - it requires investment, an open mindset and the right technological foundations. At WORTH we believe the best way to achieve transformation is to build something small that works well, and then scale it up over time, embedding better practices as you go, as well as keeping yourself open to new developments and ideas as they may crop up along the way.
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