The secret to successful store expansion

Online retail is no stranger to positive headlines. In fact, it sometimes seems that all we hear about in the industry is the strength of ecommerce.

And it’s these types of stories that have put stores in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Although 90% of all sales still happen in physical shops, there seems to be far more of a focus on the aspects of bricks-and-mortar that aren’t doing quite so well. For example, in the last few weeks alone, BHS, Greggs and Dixons Carphone have been making headlines regarding store closures.

One of the key reasons that stores close is because they don’t resonate with shoppers; in the interactive, instant world of digital commerce, store layouts and processes can appear outdated. However, this is something that can be amended – and there’s a huge appetite amongst retailers for getting the store right and growing its presence. New research by CBRE has revealed that retail estate expansion still remains high on the agenda, with 83% of retailers adamant that store growth will not be influenced by the rise of ecommerce this year. After all, there is no online substitute for seeing, touching and trying items before purchase.

The benefits of bricks-and-mortar haven’t gone unnoticed by e-tailers. Already this year, we’ve seen their eyes move towards the high streets, with the likes of Missguided announcing its first offline stores. Yes, the business is doing very well trading as it is, but if they want to grow even further, it makes sense to offer a physical experience as an alternative too.

So how can retailers optimise their stores for profit growth – and potential expansion if they get their formula right? For starters, today’s connected consumer is all about convenience and, as we well know, that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between online or offline retail. Instead, shoppers want to switch between the two at different stages of their journey, and they need to know that retailers will allow them to be flexible in this respect.

Achieving this level of agility means incorporating some of the elements that shoppers love about digital platforms into the store experience. Some retailers are already way ahead of the game, launching concepts that aim to convey the ‘store of the future.’

House of Fraser, for example, recently experimented with shoppable windows, whilst Tommy Hilfiger has brought the runway to the store using virtual reality headsets. These are pretty ambitious of course; the store must focus on perfecting the basics before taking this kind of leap. Investing in more mainstream technology such as mobile POS is one good example of connecting the bricks-and-mortar experience through online functionality.

Another key consideration is the interaction between ecommerce and store activity through click-and-collect. Even though many retailers already offer the service, there are still elements of the process that frustrate customers. Perfecting the ‘collect’ part should now be a major focus for stores, making it a pleasant experience for those finalising their purchase. Enabling speedy payments technology, such as contactless, will be handy here, as well as ensuring the right amount of staff are there to keep the queues running smoothly. Streamlining the click-and-collect element will increase the opportunity to encourage further impulse purchases.

Of course, not all online browsing will take place at home. In an era of smartphone addicts, it’s now habit for consumers to rely on their devices whilst in a store too. Vodat International recently commissioned some research that revealed 54% of shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices in the aisles, 46% look up product information and 44% for personal reasons, such as checking social media. The bottom line is that consumers expect to be able to connect to the web whenever suits them – and that includes within the bricks-and-mortar shopping journey.

It may seem obvious, but there are still retailers that do not invest properly in strong WiFi to encourage this behaviour in controlled circumstances. In fact, 3 in 10 shoppers don’t find the current standard of WiFi unreliable. Retailers with sub-par WiFi are not only at risk of frustrating their customers, they are also losing a valuable opportunity to understand (and react to) their behaviour patterns. Provided they select the right provider, retailers will be able to interact with, influence and capture insight on consumers when they log on to the network.

It’s great to hear that retailers are feeling optimistic about the potential of stores, especially at a time when ecommerce is threatening share of sales channel. Gone is the time where stores and online were two separate things; the future of the store is very much intertwined with digital interaction. If they go about it in the right way, retailers can now harness the power of ecommerce in the physical environment, and use it to boost profitability.

Stay tuned for our new report – Battle of the bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks – which will provide even more insights into the connected consumer.

Inside the mind of the modern consumer

Understanding customers is no easy job for retailers today. What consumers want is changing all the time, as is the technology that they rely on as part of their shopping trip. It’s no wonder that many businesses are struggling to keep up!

It doesn’t help that retailers are inundated with headlines that profess the latest insights into consumer habits; which ones can they actually trust? Here, we’ve detailed the most recent retail research that retailers – online and off – should factor into their customer experience strategy.

“They are impatient” – Vodat International

5 minutes; that’s how long a customer will wait for their query to be answered in-store. That doesn’t leave much time for a staff member to gather the information they’re unsure of, before that shopper abandons their journey completely.

How to respond

Ensure that your workforce receives regular training regarding your product offering – especially if new items are added. For an extra helping hand, why not implement tablets in stores so that answers are always at staff’s fingertips?

“They expect personalisation” – iVend Retail

A third of shoppers think they get personalised offers online, but not in-store. Perhaps this is one of the key reasons why ecommerce seems to gaining its sales share of channel.

How to respond

Yes, online has automated capabilities that allow loyal customers to receive information that is specific to them – but there is something the store can do better.  The ability to see, touch and try products cannot be replicated online, and even better, the presence of staff means that shoppers can get even more insight into the products they’re interested in. There’s nothing more personable than face-to-face interaction, so encourage conversation to give staff the opportunity to upsell products that might compliment a customer’s purchase.

“They tap-to-pay” – Visa

The number of contactless transactions made in the UK last year increased by 250%, according to the payments specialist. It’s suggested that this is largely due to the spending limit rise in September, which saw consumers able to pay for goods of up to £30, as opposed to just £20.

How to respond

The speed of the payment method fits the profile of today’s busy, impatient shopper. Therefore, now is definitely the time to ensure that your store not only accepts contactless, but encourages its usage.

You’ll also find that the same NFC technology in contactless terminals works with some mobile payments services, e.g. Apple Pay. As availability widens, consumers will come to expect all retailers to offer the method to them in-store. Those that don’t are likely to be viewed as outdated pretty soon, while those that do will see queue times accelerate and customer satisfaction soar.

Of course, if you’re planning on implementing such technology, you’ll want to make sure that your card payment network security is up-to-scratch. You can find out how to ensure this here.

“They go mobile” – Episerver

Mobile shopping is already playing a huge part in how people are shopping this year; 59% of Brits used their device to purchase items in the January sales.

How to respond

Shopping on a mobile device is meant to provide the ultimate convenience for consumers, allowing them to browse retailers wherever they go. With this in mind, it’s essential that you make your own mobile experience easy – ensure that you’re website is properly optimised, and that the payment process is neither lengthy nor fiddly.

“They click-and-collect” – Atomik

Shoppers might love mobile, but not quite as much as click-and-collect. A recent survey saw it beat mobile as the method that impacted their 2015 shopping experience the most.

How to respond

The role of the store has evolved from being just a sales channel, it now has to deal with a constant flow of click-and-collect orders. As most retailers now offer the service, they need to make sure that it’s the best it can be to stand out from so many others that offer the same. Training staff, implementing dedicated click-and-collect personnel, or adding an interactive kiosk are all ways to better optimise the store for click-and-collect. Of course, with all this extra technology, retailers must invest in a network that’s robust enough to support it.

Have you seen any recent retail statistics that you think offer real value to retailers? Then share them with us on Twitter via @Vodat_Int.