How can retailers drive store sales in this climate of uncertainty?

The retail industry is not keeping pace with the growth of the rest of the economy, as consumers prioritise entertainment and leisure spending. Exacerbating this, the BRC’s recent Retail 2020 report forecasts the combined cost of the Living Wage, apprenticeships and rising business rates will as £14 billion in costs over the next 4 years – approximately 20% of industry profits.

It is clear the industry faces many challenges ahead, and that’s not even taking into account the repercussions of the UK leaving the European Union, the full impact of which we are yet to discover.

However, while the forecast may seem gloomy, we’re seeing a quiet revolution which is repositioning the physical store at the heart of the retail experience. As Helen Dickinson, BRC CEO, describes, ‘what customers are looking for is experience, excitement and theatre, and often the physical environment is a better place to do that’.

So how can retailers optimise the in-store experience to drive sales in this current climate of uncertainty? Here are three strategies being used to great effect on the UK High Street right now:

Create social experiences

James Daunt, MD at Waterstones, has refocused the once troubled bookstore’s efforts on creating a more social retail experience. The retailer’s new Tottenham Court Road flagship store features a bar and a popup cinema in the basements, and many of its shops feature cafés. Daunt calls it an ‘old-fashioned approach to customer interactions’. However, other initiatives such as book clubs and a reservation app show that Waterstones is clearly reinventing the bookstore for the modern age.

With Amazon launching 400 bricks-and-mortar venues in the US, it seems that the store is still central to the future of the bookshop, and Waterstones are taking the physical buying of books to new levels.

Rethink the role of the store

O2’s latest flagships in Manchester and London offer complimentary coffee and working spaces, similar to a model Apple developed for its larger format stores, which included WiFi and seating.

Both O2 and Apple encourage shoppers to spend time in their stores, irrelevant of whether they make purchases. Bridget Lea, head of stores O2, claims that the technology company has ‘ripped up the rule book of a traditional mobile phone shop and set out to create inspiring and creative spaces where people can experience and learn about the possibilities of technology’. O2 want people to spend time in these stores and come back regularly, whatever network they are on.

For technology and telecoms retailers, fostering a community and creating brand awareness is a significant part of the sales strategy.

Tackle the limits of physical space

There has been a lot of noise around bringing technology in-store, and sport retailer Adidas provides a brilliant example of how cutting edge tech can provide an outstanding customer experience and solve the very real retailer problem of limited stock room space.

Adidas’ shops have large digital displays, which add endless aisle capabilities, allowing them brand to display every shoe it offers, beyond what is available in that specific location. By using this technology, Adidas has found it can combine the online and in-store experience for the shopper, answering a real demand from customers to try on the products while having the choice from the full range of stock.

Speak to Vodat’s experts to find out how to increase revenue through technology-enabled customer experiences.

4 stores that are ripping up the rule book of bricks-and-mortar retail

Consumer patience with outdated stores is fading.  As discussed in our previous blog – make better communication your store’s New Year’s resolution – 43% of shoppers have voiced their frustrations with in-store service, and it’s fair to say that now’s the time to invest in new ways to impress and delight.

Of course, there are some retailers that are already staying ahead of the curve, innovating their traditional store formats to reinvent what physical retail means to shoppers. The future of the store relies on its ability to wow the customer every time they visit – here we list four stores that enhanced their experience to do just that:

McDonalds – build your own burger

There are countless fast-food outlets out there; couple this with the expectation of speedy service, and you’re in an environment where it’s especially tricky to stand out. However, McDonald’s has found a way to tick both of these boxes with its latest piece of technology.

The fast-food giant has added a ‘build your own burger’ kiosk to one of its New York restaurants, allowing diners to choose from dozens of ingredient combinations to create their ideal order. Founded with an easy-to-serve menu, it was certainly a risky move for the retailer, yet one that answered their customers’ cry for variety.

Cranleigh Bridal – virtual bridal party

Back here in the UK, a bridal shop in Surrey has found its own way to offer a unique experience to customers. Cranleigh Bridal is the first store in Britain to be fitted with a mirror that has integrated Skype capabilities, enabling brides to call friends and family to show them their dress choice. This really plays to the emotional investment in planning a wedding, significantly enhancing customer satisfaction.

House of Fraser – scan the glass

Black Friday is now an integral part of the UK’s retail calendar, and shoppers are taking notice. In 2015, House of Fraser used the event to pilot a new way to entice passers by.

The department store created shoppable windows, integrated with augmented reality technology in its flagship London store. Consumers passing the store were able to use the House of Fraser app to scan the glass for a full list of Black Friday deals, reserve items and pick them up from a collection point. It was a launch that was perfectly timed, appealing to busy festive shoppers when the queues were likely at their longest.

Tommy Hilfiger – straight from the runway

New York Fashion Week is a designers’ chance to showcase their latest creations to the world. A lot of time and budget is spent to ensure that the runway show not only highlights the clothes in the best way, but is a memorable performance. But while it’s easy for those in the audience to be blown away, what about the brand’s wider customer base?

Tommy Hilfiger has managed to include brand fans in its Fashion Week experience, with the help of virtual reality. Some its stores are kitted with Samsung GearVR headsets, allowing shoppers to watch a 360-degrees 3D version of the runway show, as if they were sat in the front row. This way, the iconic catwalk is brought to life instead of relying on press images to do the talking.

Have you seen any innovative stores of the future? Share your stories and images with us @Vodat_Int.

The secret to offering a superb customer experience

The consumer is driving the future of retail, but how do you work out what matters to them most, in order to deliver greater profitability through outstanding customer experience? That’s the quandary that many of today’s omni-channel retailers are facing.

In a recent article, international analyst Forrester noted the growing trend of Customer Experience rooms – interactive spaces designed to give retail workers greater understanding of the services their customers receive by replicating their journey within the store, over the phone or when visiting their website. The reality of what shoppers experience can often be painful for retail personnel, but many companies see this as essential for creating consumer empathy, which in turn delivers greater standards of service.

While putting yourself in the shoes of the customer is an incredibly valuable exercise, retailers shouldn’t rush to set up a Customer Experience room without taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, though. Statistics released by Accenture this week revealed that 76% of businesses admit to wasting up to half their customer experience budget, investing in activities that fail to generate ROI.

What many retailers forget is that customer service doesn’t always mean wowing shoppers with impressive merchandising displays or sleek sales pitches; these ‘icings on the cake’ are irrelevant if consumers can’t access the products or information they require.

Unifying communications and processes behind the scenes is the most important thing retailers can do to ensure they deliver a seamless customer experience. Being able to monitor all contact with customers, and draw on that information during future encounters to tailor promotional messages or personalise conversations can make or break shopper relationships and loyalty.

Visible data and operational clarity are just as important as empathy. Running a seamless, focussed operation behind the scenes will give customer-facing staff the ability to deal with consumer enquiries without getting stuck for basic information or being failed by back-end systems. This confidence is what makes the difference between a poor, good and great customer experience.

Are you prepared for cross-channel mobile commerce?

With an estimated 12m tablet devices sold in the UK alone last year, and 70% of UK consumers now owning a smartphone, it isn’t surprising that the expansion of mobile commerce has reached a third of the UK’s online retail market. With this ratio on the increase retailers simply can’t ignore the potential of the mobile channel.

Latest results from the IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking (Q4 2013/4) show that from November 2013 to January 2014, m-retail accounted for 32% of online sales with 6% of sales made via smartphones and 26% via tablet devices. This compares with 27% overall m-retail penetration in the previous quarter and represents 18% growth between Q3 and Q4. Visits to e-retail websites via mobile devices also increased and now account for 45% of traffic.

As consumer confidence in mobile and associated services continues to grow, it’s fair to say this upward trend will continue. But are retailers website geared up for the upsurge of consumers opting to shop this way?

House of Fraser is a fine example of a retailer who has made the bold move to support these changes in consumers shopping habits, having recently launched their mobile-first website, aimed at the new breed of ‘tappy shoppers’. It will mark the first of many retailers who will be revamping and redesigning their websites with an eye to the growing number of ‘mobile’ shoppers that are hitting their sites.

Retailers need to face the fact that their sites will have to be designed for tablets to support the growing number of mobile shoppers, as more consumers access the online channel at home, on the move and in store.  

Currently, the mobile channel offers a great opportunity for retailers to maximise the customer shopping experience and integrate channels to future proof omnichannel operations. With the sales medium still in its infancy, it could well become the dominant channel of the future, so cannot be ignored! 

Retailers need to go the extra mile in-store

Retailers need to go that extra mile in-store. In a difficult economy and in an age when the consumer is increasingly shaping the retail landscape, retailers need to up their game in-store and provide a journey that leaves customers wanting more.

Whilst a growing proportion of investment is going into online channels, to neglect stores is to neglect the brand and it is the brand that is the only thing that survives in both good and bad times.

And it’s not all about offering the cheapest prices to entice consumers to shop in-store, but focusing on the experience and convenience of service so customers feel there is added value in them visiting a store.

Some great examples of innovative services in-store include; order for home delivery if an item is out of stock at Next, iPads at Reiss that offer connection to its website, enabling the retailer to catalogue it’s entire product range in-store without having to stock it and media screens at Victoria’s Secret, displaying product demos and catwalk shows to better promote seasonal collections.

It is these kind of initiatives that generate real excitement amongst consumers, who spread the news via word of mouth and social media channels, creating a buzz and ramping up store traffic.

Ultimately, making the store a place worth visiting is about engaging with the consumer using interactive technology such as free Wi-Fi, mobile points of sale, online connection, special events, click and collect but also collect and click, and digital media.

It all adds up to a significant investment, but getting the store network right, with a core network to support the technology and manage the data, provides the platform on which to build the store of the future.