Every year brings with it stories of the woes retailers face.
The past decade has seen a huge range of different challenges thrown at the industry including the likes of increased competition, soaring overheads, political uncertainty, Brexit, booming ecommerce… and more besides.
Then 2020 came along, turned around to everyone else, and said: “Hold my beer.”
We’ve seen footfall plummet, two lockdowns where non-essential retailers have been forced to close their doors, barren high streets up and down the country, and scared consumers tightening their purse strings. It’s been a perfect storm with challenge after challenge thrown at retailers of all sizes.
Yet, there’s been positive trends, silver-linings, long term opportunities and benefits among the doom and gloom.
Quinyx, with Concrete, Sitoo and RetailNext, brought together Mark Cardinal, Director of Store Operations at The North Face, Peter Joelsson, Global IT Director at GANT, and Jordan Simpson, Retail Operations Manager at Penhaligon’s, for a retail expert roundtable on why 2021 could be the year of retail transformation.
Here are our top three takeaways from the webinar focusing on what we can expect to see in retail during 2021 and beyond:
1. Enhanced ‘Phigital’ Retail
The merging of digital and physical retail (Phigital as Jordan Simpson called it!) is nothing dramatically new. Yet, it has accelerated exponentially in 2020 as retailers have been forced to adapt and pivot in the wake of COVID-19.
“What our team and our customers showed us is we need a quick evolution - some would say revolution - to omnichannel,” said Mark Cardinal. “We learned quickly that time was of the essence. Our customers, more than likely, now enters our doors where they’ve already started their transaction online in some form or another.”
This was echoed by Peter Joelsson who stressed the need for retailers to ‘bridge the gap between online and offline so they can sell and deliver from anywhere’ and ensuring the integration between online and physical stores is seamless in order to meet customer expectations.
As Jordan Simpson said: “At Penhaligon’s we used the first lockdown to adopt a pivot mentality. We learnt from it so we can offer services to our consumers that let them experience the product on the same level as they would do if they visited a store.
“What we’ve learnt is that the changes we’re making to become more omnichannel aren’t just for today - they’re for the future. Consumers are much more informed, they expect more and their intent is often experiential. It’s why we see our store associates as guiding lights rather than sales people.
“We’ve implemented things like video conferencing directly from our website where our customers can request a video chat with our in-store fragrance experts to help bring the digital experience to life. Putting long term processes like these in place will absolutely have a positive impact and define what makes a resilient business.”
2. Brand Champions take centre stage
The role of the associate is changing and - just like the example above of Penhaligon’s store staff becoming video consultants for website visitors - they are the foundation on which amazing CX is built.
The role of the retailer is to empower and support their employees with the right training and tools so they can become brand champions. A positive employee experience creates a better customer experience with increased sales, more repeat visits, more loyalty, and bigger basket sizes.
Mark Cardinal said: “At The North Face our team members, or Guides as we call them, have a device at their fingertips every single day. They live their life that way. And then all of a sudden they walk into the store and they just use this device to take payments. We need to change that. The customer wants an in person representation of the brand and, while previously our Guides were there to get people in and out, they now need to be our brand ambassadors and we need to empower them to do it.
“Whether it’s communication, training, or product knowledge, tech isn’t a blocker - it’s a tool to take you to the next level.”
3. Increased innovation
From social selling through to extending the reach of the store into digital channels and, equally, bringing more digital into the store, all our panelists agreed that it will be the retailers that are swift to embrace innovation who will succeed in the long term.
With so much uncertainty and so many unknowns still dominating the public mind, Peter Joelsson stressed the importance of retailers staying open-minded, agile, and being able to redirect investments on the fly.
This doesn’t just mean investing in new tech either - although that can certainly help. Jordan Simpson’s advice is to look at your existing tool kit, and see if you can pivot into a different space.
“Our POS system has a payment method which enables us to securely transact with people remotely, and still be GDPR compliant. That, for us, took a huge pivot and allowed us to really reframe how we looked at a whole set of tools that we've had for years, and be able to pivot them into a different space.
“It isn’t always about looking for that next app. Can you make what you already have do what you want it to do, prove it works, and then invest after proof of concept? A lot of people don’t have the budget to invest this year but, if you can prove a concept works with a minimum viable product, then you can explore what it looks like at scale and be ready to move when the budget is there.”
Undoubtedly, there will be more curve balls thrown at retail in 2021. However, by being adaptable, flexible, and innovative while at the same time creating positive experiences for employees and customers, retailers can put themselves in the best possible position to seize new opportunities.
Interested in learning more? You can watch the webinar in full through the link below.