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12 Approaches to Strategy & Innovation

Whether it is innovative promotions, inspirational content, strategic expansion into new channels, or careful targeting of specific customer segments, leading retailers in this dimension know how to stand out from the crowd.

1. Develop a collection strategy

With more than 60% of Top500 retailers offering click and collect, those that stand out have developed more innovative options. Screwfix claims that many lines can be ready for collection within one minute of ordering, while Dunelm suggests “in three hours”. Currently around one in five of top retailers – including Argos, Wickes, Schuh and Halfords – now offer same-day collection. Morrisons sees collection as a key strategy – but not just for its own online orders. The company has been installing collection lockers in its stores since 2014 starting with InPost and two years ago adding Amazon lockers as well. Today, there are thousands of them enabling shoppers to collect their online purchases while visiting the supermarket, which no doubt increases store footfall and sales as well.

2. Make apps a must-have

Given the plethora of apps available, if they are actually going to be used they need to deliver something special. Visit H&M’s site on the App Store and there is a disappointing rating of 2.2 out of 5 with largely negative reviews: “…the worst I have ever come across” declares one disgruntled shopper. Dunelm’s app reputedly delivers its catalogue to your phone – or that may be “delivered” as while you can view the catalogue on the website and download it, should you wish, it’s hard to find anywhere on its site where you can obtain the app while iTunes declares it “unavailable”. DFS’s room planner app, in theory, enables you to place any of its sofas into a realistic iPad representation of your room. The helpful video on its website makes it looks simple – but the reviews on the App Store (rating 2.6) suggest it is quite the opposite. Rather more encouraging is Wayfair’s app which provides lifesized versions of products in any space using with “3D View in Room” feature and includes “Room Planner tool” which allows users to arrange furniture and design their “ideal space”. This one merits a 4.8 rating with many reviews, largely from the company’s US customer base. If you are going to offer an app – then ensure that it really does deliver what it promises.

3. Give them an experience

Cycle specialist Wiggle doesn’t only offer all the essential kit a keen cyclist needs – it also provides social gatherings in the form of Wiggle Events: well-planned mass cycling gatherings in scenic parts of the country where enthusiasts can gather with friends for bike rides of up to 100 miles. Participants are provided with feed stations, a well-signed route, medical support , a “finisher gift”, and a special certificate at the end of it all – as well as an opportunity for the more competitive to take part in time trials along parts of the route for cash prizes. Judging by the posted reviews the events enhance customer loyalty and enthusiasm for the brand with five-star ratings and, as one satisfied customer recorded, “Wiggle never let me down on anything I order. GREAT “.

Rather less energetic is a Waitrose wine tasting with shoppers able to buy a variety of packages for six or more participants, providing a two hour tasting with wines and nibbles provided, free wine tasting glasses and a Waitrose expert to lead the proceedings and pour the wine. It also runs cookery schools in three locations offering day and evening courses on such topics as “Barbecue Masterclass, “Japanese Street Food” or “Baker’s Basket”.

4. Expand the search options

Some shoppers search by brand, others by size or product type – some want a visual search to find items they’ve seen on Instagram or spotted in the street and the leading retailers make sure their search options remain comprehensive and innovative. Search for a “red dress” on Asos and you’re presented with 1,400 styles to choose from but the selection can then be quickly refined by style, brand, price, size, type – such as “occasion”, “casual”, or “work”, range – “maternity”, “petite”, or “tall”– and the selection soon falls to something manageable. The company’s mobile app also enables visual search using a camera icon to compare products with any images snapped in the street. Hotel Chocolat and The Perfume Shop are particularly strong on gift search – including both occasions and categories of recipients, while toy shop Smyths has a gift finder section with age categories (including “big kids” for the teens and adults) as well as a budget price choice, with the further option of listing the chosen selection by price or best sellers.

5. Encourage your niche

While much of the high street has struggled this year, Yours Clothing is one of the few that continues to expand. Focusing on the plus-size market the company has grown from a market stall in East Anglia 20 years ago to an omnichannel operation with 140 stores – 10 overseas, and a website delivering to 90 countries. According to a report by PwC, the plus-size market is expected to grow by 5–6% a year up to 2022 with plus-size models giving larger women greater confidence. Yours holds competitions, such as “Face of Yours” that encourage its shoppers to become part of its advertising and promotional campaigns: last year this annual contest attracted 1,500 entrants with 12 finally chosen to represent the brand and model Yours’ latest styles. The result is a loyal customer base, with numerous testimonials on its website from shoppers who report improvements in self-confidence as they discover that plus-size can be fashionable. As the company says it loves “talking to our customers and are proud of our engaged and loyal social media communities”. In the year to January 2018 it opened 30 new stores and online sales – now accounting for 41% of the business – grew by 26%.

6. Tell them what’s in stock

Online shopping, for many, is all about instant gratification: order it now, collect it the same day or have it delivered next morning at the latest. Many of the leading Top500 retailers offer same-day collection, and some manage same day delivery as well. To succeed with either, a retailer needs real-time insights into stock levels: in stores for collection or at local distribution hubs for instant delivery. Having achieved real-time inventory awareness, why not share that with your customers? A growing number – including Argos, Halfords, Next, Asda, Debenhams and Wiggle – now provide store stock checking capability, either via mobile apps or the website. For years achieving such real-time stock visibility was regarded as a Holy Grail – an ideal always just out of reach – but big data and technologies such as RFID have made such innovations possible.

7. Enhance chat

Linger on a page for a little too long and the result on many sites is a pop-up offering chat as a help. Others offer help from the moment you arrive at their site. Wiggle puts its chat button at the bottom of the landing page, The Perfume Shop prefers a button labelled “support” while Ocado, curiously, has the words “Live Chat” turned through 90° at the side of its landing page. Schuh makes it all rather more obvious with a “Live Help” button in the centre of the header of the landing page. Click on this and you’re presented with a window and smiling sales assistant inviting you to choose between text chat and video chat – with a choice of leaving your webcam on or off.

8. Blow your own trumpet and diversify

With many of the UK’s department stores struggling to survive – or facing CVAs, fire sales or administration – John Lewis has adopted a fight back strategy with a multimillion pound investment in store redesign which includes a rooftop bar and pop-up cinema at its flagship store in London’s Oxford Street. As chairman, Charlie Mayfield, said earlier this year “Expect to see more focus on the customer, more focus on innovation. We’ll be bringing some bold moves for both our brands over the next 12 months…there will be more innovation on product and service.” Its website is already delivering this expanded message with a clearly displayed “More from us” selection on its landing page promoting not just Waitrose and its loyalty and credit cards but its broadband, insurance, foreign currency exchange – available for click and collect – and optician services. It is also attacking the corporate market with “John Lewis for Business” promoting office equipment, furniture and electricals in bulk, and gifts.

9. Emphasise time limited promotions

Whether it is a summer sale, prime day clone, or Black Friday, promotions need to be original, eye-catching and strictly time limited. Those constant “15% off” banners across the landing page are unlikely to encourage an immediate impulse purchase. Leading retailers use different tactics to make it very obvious that the offer is strictly time limited. Euro Car Parts has a count down clock on its heading banner ticking off the seconds until the special sale ends. Oasis puts its count down calendar in the centre of its landing page next to a high fashion image of what is on offer, while Argos has ‘Big Red Event” in shouty capitals across is landing page with limited discount offers such as “seven day deals” clearly signposted. Holland & Barrett regularly has a time-limited promotion of the BOGOF variety – such as “buy one get one for a penny” – to attract shoppers.

10. Capitalise on customer behaviour

With at least 40% of all online fashion purchases returned, Dorothy Perkins has opted to accept the trend and deliver relevant services accordingly. Its innovative “Try before you buy” service allows customers to order assorted garments, keep them for up to 30 days to try on at home, return items free of charge and only pay for what they actually retain. In the “old days” before Internet shopping it used to be known as “goods on approval” and was a regular service among upmarket fashion stores allowing well-heeled customers to be sent a selection of styles instead of actually having to visit the store to try them on. The Dorothy Perkins scheme is managed by Klarna AB – a payment services provider – which runs basic checks on the credit-worthiness of shoppers before the goods are despatched. Having decided what to keep shoppers can then use “Slice” to spread payment over several months.

11. Encourage the higher spenders

Every retailer wants to encourage the highest spending customer segments to shop with them regularly. Boots does this by boosting its Advantage Club rewards to both the over-60s and parents with young children. Usually every £1 spent at Boots receives four Advantage points, but members of the Parenting Club and the “More treats for over-60s group” receive 10 points for every £1 spent on purchases relevant to their particular demographic. Parenting Club shoppers, for example, receive the extra points on baby products as well as a regular magazine with relevant content. Older shoppers get extra points on Boots branded products as well as rewards when they buy spectacles or hearing aids. Boots is, of course, well known for the many other services it offers and the extensive health advice available on its site. Its landing page not only features the usual selection of product promotions but reminders for its services, too: in late August ‘flu jabs “for the colder months ahead” were already on offer.

12. Provide inspiration

Whether it is fashion styling tips, recipe ideas or “how to” videos the leading retailers ensure that their websites provide plenty of inspiration for customers with many adding the word to their header choices and pull down menus. Lakeland’s “Advice and inspiration” mixes recipes with practical household tips – such as how to combat damage from clothes moths. B&Q opts for text and photographs to guide shoppers through various DIY projects while Wickes adds a series of videos on such topics as “Fill small cracks and holes in walls” or “How to fit wall tiles”. Mint Velvet’s magazine combines styling tips with podcasts on social issues while Next’s “Style Stories” includes such topics as “Perfect packed lunches” and “How to pack the perfect suitcase”.

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