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GUEST COMMENT Why is it critical for retailers to evaluate the current climate to remain profitable?

Image: Adobe Stock

The retail landscape has changed drastically over the last decade. The increase in digital and mobile growth is presenting consumers with even more methods of searching, interacting and purchasing. Retailers have more scope and opportunity than ever to attract and engage with consumers, yet the industry is struggling. With record levels of discounting being reported, an increase in store closures, rising capital costs, consumer behavioural shifts, mobile growth and a spike in ecommerce competition amongst retailers, the battle between ecommerce and brick and mortar stores is bigger than ever. 

Add to this the impact of the coronavirus, which is now being felt by businesses worldwide. The High Street has been dramatically affected, with a report by Retail Economics revealing that a quarter of consumers are avoiding shopping destinations for fear of contracting the virus. They are turning to online ordering instead, with over a third (35%) of respondents indicating that they would shop more online should the outbreak persist. 

The coronavirus crisis has certainly put the decline of High Street footfall in sharper focus, but already, many retailers had already come to the crucial point of evaluating their strategy in the current retail climate. Brands need to understand how they can navigate a prolonged phase of likely disruption and move forward. It’s clear that retailers need to address a range of factors contributing to lower footfalls in-store and at the same time respond to a growing demand in online shopping.  Doing both – and blending the experience customers receive both instore and online – will help shape the future of shopping and ultimately, improve the overall consumer experience. 

Grabbing the mobile opportunity

A recent report found that over 98% of Generation Z shoppers look forward to shopping in stores, but typically turn to online sites out of convenience. This is particularly prevalent for those accessing retail sites from smartphones or tablets, with mobile leading the way as the preferred device for purchasing in 2019. With 95% of UK households owning a mobile phone and 78% of people owning a smartphone, this is hardly surprising.  There are more opportunities than ever for retailers to catch the attention of consumers online; research found that the UK population look at their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day and two in five adults look at their phones within the first five minutes of waking up, climbing to 65% for those under 35.

Although purchases made on a mobile phone are continuing to grow, 84% have experienced difficulty in completing a mobile transaction. This further demonstrates the need for retailers to ensure they provide a flawless online experience to capitalise on consumer conversion rates.



Humanising digital experiences 

With consumers online and connected at all times, retailers have more opportunities to attract customers than ever before. However, the overwhelming volume of choice available, the constant stream of advertised content on social media and the removal of human touch at every point of the purchasing chain means that a human connection, emotive or otherwise, has been lost. 

The accessibility of online sites, reviews and comparative sites for purchases across virtually every retail sector or customer service platform is saturated with information and bots dominating pages.

As a result, people are demanding more from their technology and from themselves, desiring emotional connections in both the digital and ‘real’ world. Humans are rapidly becoming more influenced by digital technologies and there is an imminent demand for technology to become more human in turn: integrating human touch points into technology and facilitating human-to-human communication within invisible technology.  

Adding emotional intelligence into online customer experiences will be the cornerstones of the future, providing social interaction online and a truly personalised shopping journey.

Technological innovations and solutions are allowing a synthesis of the digital and physical shopping experience by connecting shoppers to in-store staff with the adoption of augmented reality, live video calling and artificial intelligence (AI). Increasingly, retailers are adopting these interactive technologies and experiences to provide consumers with a more customised and immersive shopping experience. 

The term ‘New Retail’ is being increasingly used to depict this increasingly blurred boundary between the online and offline shopping world. 



Engaging with new audiences

Gen Z’ers have a spending power of around £111 billion, and will account for approximately 40% of consumers worldwide this year.  Therefore, engaging with this audience is key to gaining and retaining this new consumer. 

With an estimated eight second time frame to engage this consumer, Gen Z’ers are forcing brands and marketers to evaluate their traditional processes to attract and retain them. Increasing video content, personalisation and implementing user-friendly payment methods such as Apple Pay are key in helping to cater not only to this demographic but also the wider market. 


The new retail era

It is clear that through a combination of several factors including the existing retail landscape, as well as the unforeseen circumstances created by the coronavirus outbreak, we will see some drastic change ahead. The rapid technological developments that took place over the last 10 years have given way to a shift in consumer attitude and resulted in a saturated online and physical retail market. A new era of retailing is emerging. 

This new era of retail is adding a human element to an invisible world of technology, blending instore and online shopping experiences to create a true omni-channel shopping experience that is revolutionising how consumers interact and engage with their technology.  

Capturing the attention of consumers has never been more important, and the next decade will see brands and retailers working towards capturing the Gen Z market, creating collective solutions in times of uncertainty and ensuring a seamless purchasing process is accessible for all.

In conclusion, retail is at the start of a new era where high street and online sales are combined.  

Andre Hordagoda is co-founder of Go Instore

Main image: Adobe Stock

Author image courtesy of Andre Hordagoda/Go Instore

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