This Way To The Future Of Retail

Predicting retail’s future can be an occupational hazard, but COVID-19 and successive lockdowns have become unforeseen harbingers of change. It seems there is no more time to ponder the not-so-surprising growth of online shopping or the demise of the high street; the future may rather abruptly have arrived.

Is this a short, sharp cut to the future of retail? And, if so, how do retailers, new and old, stay relevant to their customers?

Retail for tomorrow is starting today

COVID-19 has seen retailers, who were slowly adjusting to consumers’ changing behaviours, having to fast-track. Shopping through mobile apps, collection points, and delivery has become a vital part of the service and transaction. Marketing teams worked at warp speed to be agile and closer to their customers to drive immediate and tangible outcomes. It’s a new reality.

Retail of the past needs a point in the future

In static space, future success looks more like hard yards. COVID-19 shockwaves started early as monoliths like Intu shuddered into administration, and once retail greats Top Shop and Debenhams faltered. Shoppers have proven they do come back, and the high street still offers an experience that people seek and need. These retailers want to work out what that is.

Five Ways To Get Retail Future-Proof

Retail can evolve to be ready for what’s next, and we’ve noticed five things that just might help:

1. Your people are your brand advocates

… at home

COVID-19 shifted from who you saw in-store to who delivered to your door. Delivery drivers became, and remain, enormously important, as a powerful extension of the brand. Ikea, Milk and More! and John Lewis all make it part of the brand service. So, if the delivery driver of your child’s first bike has made an effort to make that special – it gets noticed.

… and in-store

The power of a welcome and sense of community in-store is immense. Co-op’s ‘closer to you’ strategy uses colleague advocacy to do just that. High street retailers will find colleagues at the heart of any future success. Their behaviours relate to your brand. Treating them well, fair pay, and offering the right environment will get engagement, and make a big difference to growth.

2. Make it effortless for customers to visualise & connect

Customers want a seamless and interactive experience from you. Visually appealing and highly-relevant content is critical. User-Generated Content (UGC) brings customers and brands together. Waitrose and Beauty Pie are doing well in this space by building consumer confidence. It’s gaining momentum. Storystream reports that its getting as much as 20% growth in e-commerce sales and customer engagement for clients using its curated content platform within their websites. Customers are driving brand love in realtime, so marketers need to get focussed, fast.

3. Customer loyalty and subscription

People are more predictable than they like to think. Many of us stick to buying the same brand or product on repeat—especially where essential items are concerned. Brands like Holland and Barrett, Pets At Home, and Smol have innovated with a subscription or ‘favourites model’. It drives customer loyalty, and allows them to “not have to think about it”. If the product is right, and the service is seamless, brands can retain customers for a long time.

4. Buying local and seasonal

Local (and this can mean “British” too) is a growing area, driven by sustainability and globalisation concerns. COVID-19 has seen consumers get connected with what’s on their doorstep. Local suppliers have been re-discovered because they can act fast and meet immediate needs. Magaroo, a lockdown tech start-up, responded to just that by offering independent shops a way to sell online quickly. As we continue to work at, or closer to home more often, ‘local’ will become a consumer way of life.

5. Direct to Consumer

Smaller companies and independents are cutting out the ‘middle-men’ to sell direct to consumer. They are thriving. Brands such as Harry’s razors and Mindful Chef’s food boxes, have gained significant traction in the last five years. For larger retail brands, with established distribution channels, the model is more challenging. But it is likely they will be sharpening up their position to enter into this territory.

Nothing's predictable, but some things are certain

One thing we can predict when asked about the future of retail is that there is one. Right now, it’s a wide-eyed ride for a retail marketer, but it’s a challenge we must grasp, and be at our most strategic and creative.

Would you like some ideas on how you can get your brand strategy future-proofed?