This has been a momentous year for us all. The retail sector has been at the forefront of many of the changes and challenges that have arisen as a result of Covid. While physical stores have spent much of the year closed, the pandemic has driven innovation and fuelled a huge acceleration in what were just emerging trends at the start of the year.
We asked Ian Johnston, Creative Director at Quinine, to share his predictions and advice to retail brands on how to approach the choppy months ahead.
Digital and physical are one and the same
Too many businesses think about retail in terms of different channels, where online and physical retail are treated differently and then integrated. In reality, from a consumer’s perspective these channels are only different touchpoints along the pathway.
Retail is everywhere. It’s a complex ecosystem of physical and digital spaces whose purpose extends far beyond displaying and selling products and services. Retail is now a paradigm of many things merged – functional consumption, social interactions, fun, entertainment and learning experiences.
One-size-fits-all is dead
The ‘one size fit all’ retail strategy that helped companies scale-up can no longer survive. It’s hard for individual customers to emotionally connect to store experiences that try to serve the needs of every potential customer.
Retailers must explore smaller, more agile store formats. An entire store could be dedicated to a new product launch, or a singular product experience. These formats could be temporary but highly focused, with research showing that simple, focused, clear and concise messages are more likely to make a lasting impact.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Customers are interacting with stores using their smartphones and this has only been accelerated by Covid, with its demands for touchless environments. Mobile technology must be integrated into the store experience and used to enhance that experience, be that through in-store live chat or AI chatbots. Seeking information such as product specs, availability, or making product comparisons should not require finding a staff member.
An increasing number of consumers want to support brands that are vocal about social causes or have a philanthropic nature. Lots of brands are championing social causes, but we rarely see them translated into store experiences. Activating these initiatives in-store will educate and encourage customers to participate in your social causes, and in turn have positive brand benefits.
One-to-one store appointments can be used to build a personalised experience. Understanding why someone is coming to your store allows you to show the right products and provide the best staff members with the necessary knowledge and skill set. Doing this in a private space is the ultimate personalised service.
Additionally, hygiene protocols can be a focus when using appointments. The store can use timed appointments to control the number of people in-store, leading to more dedicated customer service. You may have lower footfall, but your overall level of understanding, connection and service to customers is higher.
The store as a set
Stores can be used for live streaming or as a backdrop for customer’s production of their own content. People want to connect with others and share content and stores should act as a setting that encourages media creation and sharing. This should be considered when designing experiential events or pop-up shops. Customers who use their own social media to interact with your space become brand ambassadors.
Delivery, delivery, delivery
Delivery has become a more important part of the shopping experience and should be a moment of brand activation. This should be part of the experience that is controlled and personalised to the customer as much as possible. It needs to be a diverse service that adapts to many needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all service.
Delivery services should not end at the customer’s door, staff making a delivery can help with product set-up in their home or via video-call, if social distancing is required. You are delivering information and relationships, along with goods and services.