What must BHS do to survive its CVA revival?

BHS’ owners breathed a sigh of relief this week when creditors voted in favour of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) that will see rents cut on many of its stores, but this is just one small victory on the road to recovery.

The department store chain’s past has been somewhat chequered in recent history. Loss making for 7 years, BHS was bought by invesment group Retail Acquisitions for just £1 in March 2015, when retail Tycoon Sir Philip Green failed to revive its fortunes.

BHS’ chief executive, Darren Topp, has placed the blame for its latest poor performance squarely at the door of retail property prices, claiming the retailer’s problems are down to cost rather than sales.

The CVA will certainly ease some of this pressure, as 47 stores will have rents slashed by either 50% or 75%, while negotiations will take place to reduce rental on the remaining 40 stores (excluding those held separately by BHS Properties Limited) by 25%.

What’s more important, though, is that Retail Acquisitions use this lifeline to raise the capital needed to reinvigorate the BHS brand, as its lacklustre results are down to much more than rising costs. “The shops are tatty and the clothing lines dowdy,” remarked the Financial Times’ Jonathan Guthrie in his analysis of the situation.

However, Guthrie’s conclusion that “department stores have themselves fallen from fashion with shoppers” couldn’t be further from the truth. BHS has to look no further than John Lewis and House of Fraser – both of which pre-date the 88-year-old chain – to see two examples of similar businesses that have evolved much more successfully.

So, where did BHS go wrong – and what does it need to do in order to put it right? Certainly within omnichannel retail, the business has been caught napping. John Lewis and House of Fraser have put significant investment into their digital strategies, both in terms of online offering and promoting technology-led engagement in the store. House of Fraser has gone mobile-first with its website, while John Lewis’ retail app was recently voted third best in the UK. Both companies have invested heavily in click-and-collect.

In contrast, BHS has been driving down its margins even further with seemingly permanent discount promotions, and trying to diversify into new areas such as foods rather than reinventing its core clothing and homeware range.

Recently, though, there has been light at the end of the tunnel. The convenience food initiative is still in play, but BHS seems to have turned a corner with regards to prioritising what needs to change. 23 stores have already undergone a rebrand, and Topp has vowed to streamline its product range and focus on the brands which resonate with its customers. It’s also implementing an aggressive ecommerce strategy, to increase online shopping’s share of sales from 12% to 20%.

Interestingly, BHS has hired ex-House of Fraser brand marketing director, Tony Holdway, as marketing and creative director. He has already vowed to overturn the company’s lack of brand appeal and investment.

The fact that Holdway has jumped ship from House of Fraser is almost a bigger coup for BHS than the CVA. Having someone who knows how to run department store marketing, 2016 style, will help the retailer to shake off its outdated image and start embracing the omnichannel, multi-touchpoint journey to purchase that hallmarks modern retail.

One thing is for sure; if BHS doesn’t aspire to the relevance and agility of John Lewis and House of Fraser, it’s going to find itself back in the danger zone pretty quickly. And it would be a huge shame to lose one of the High Street’s most recognisable heritage brands.

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.

Is fashion a step too far for Amazon?

For many retailers, Amazon can feel like an undefeatable giant. As if its achievements to date aren’t sufficient, the e-tailer has announced its first foray into private-label fashion brands – but is this a step too far?

Undoubtedly, Amazon has a loyal customer base. The site has 244 million active users and is widely praised for its convenience, prices and extensive choice of products. Jeff Bezos and colleagues also have deep pockets when it comes to fulfilment, which will ensure fashion followers get their purchases as quickly as possible, regardless of cost.

However, Amazon’s widespread appeal may also be its Achilles Heel. If their audience is everyone, how are they going to segment that vision for the highly targeted world of fashion?

To be successful, Amazon is going to have to compete with online upstarts like ASOS and internationally-established retailers like Topshop, which both have a strong following from style-savvy shoppers.

Equally, because they are focused on fashion and fashion only, the likes of ASOS and Topshop have had time to really get to know their customers – not just what clothes they like, but how they shop, what their interests are, what media channels they use. This has enabled them to craft a brand based around a clear picture of their target market.

So, is Amazon trying to conquer too much with a foray into fashion?

If anyone is going to make a new venture yield returns, it’s going to be Amazon. After all, the e-tailer has good knowledge of fashion already, having sold clothes since 2008. It added a series of high-profile names to its repertoire last year, including Hugo Boss and Gucci, and opened Europe’s largest fashion photography studio in London last summer.

Amazon is also investing in a knowledgeable leader to increase its chances of private-label success; the former womenswear boss of Marks and Spencer will be heading up the launch. With a background in how fashion and consumer behaviour, she may have what it takes to ensure Amazon’s new foray is completely customer focussed.

There are two things that will ultimately determine its success. The first is how well it can use the wealth of data it generates to map its fashion offering to potential customers.

The second is a problem that faces all online retailers: how well it can promote its private-label range without potential customers being able to feel and try garments.

While online is ideal for items such as electronics and entertainment, clothes are very visual, and many consumers still treasure the act of going into a store. Fashion shopping is a leisure activity, and asking a sales assistant to bring you a different size is always going to be easier than buying something in two sizes and sending one back – no matter how quick and simple the returns service.

Only time will tell whether Amazon lives up to its self-described vision of ‘the ultimate fashion destination’, but it needs to apply the innovative thinking for which it’s renowned to triumph in a world which values style AND substance.

Do you think Amazon will succeed in the fashion market? Tweet us your thoughts.  

 

Are fashion e-tailer’s attempts to venture offline Missguided?

It’s a great time for online retail. Hailed as the most convenient means of shopping, ecommerce is in the midst of one of its most successful seasons yet – December alone saw a sales increase by 15.1% compared to the previous year.

However, it seems that this level of success isn’t quite enough for some retailers; in a bid to grow even further, they’re looking offline too. Fashion e-tailer Missguided recently announced plans to open its first store in the UK, and it’s not the only one – the likes of Boohoo and Fabletics have also taken their first steps into bricks-and-mortar.

And who can blame them? News headlines about the death of the high street are fast becoming replaced with success stories. Services such as click-and-collect are providing stores with a new lease of life, with John Lewis being the latest retailer to praise the shopping method’s contribution to its strong festive trading figures. Meanwhile, some are even calling out for store opening hours to be extended, with 64% of retail workers in London supporting longer trading on Sundays.

So yes, heading to the High Street offers great potential for an online retailer. But there some things to factor in if they wish to replicate the great customer experience they create on the web.

Unlike ecommerce, the store has a helping hand in converting sales: staff. Personal service is something that gives bricks-and-mortar an edge over online shopping, so it’s essential that retailers make the most of this opportunity.

Offering great bricks-and-mortar customer service relies on the retailer’s ability to give consumers the same informative experience as their digital platforms provide. Yet, we recently found that 43% of shoppers voiced frustrations with inconsistent answers from staff. In order to address these communication challenges in-store, some leading retailers are equipping staff with tablets. This way they’ll have access to product information and stock availability at the swipe of a finger, making it far more likely that they can address customer queries.

This is especially important at a time when most shoppers enter the store with some level of product knowledge. Recent research from omnichannel retail specialist iVend Retail revealed that 68% of European consumers will research online before visiting a store – and clued up customers expect far more from retailers. These shoppers have already done their research, and just want to touch or try the item before committing to a purchase. In this case, staff members are far more likely to be faced with technical queries regarding the item, rather than general product information. In this case, a tablet device will prove even more valuable to your staff – they can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of every store product on their own after all.

And not all shoppers restrict their online research to the comfort of their own homes. Instead, many are relying on their mobile devices to have a quick browse in-store, either for more product knowledge or to compare it with those available from other retailers. During the festive period alone, 41% of shoppers ‘showroomed’ when buying gifts in-store.

This shopper desire to use mobile in-store, combined with staff usage of tablets, means more devices devices than ever are connecting to store networks. Retailers that have not invested well enough in their network may be faced with a whole host of issues; slow running technology, intermittent connections and, in the worst case, complete connectivity blackouts. Not only will this be extremely frustrating to those working at the business, but most importantly, customers will be left disappointed too. Then, all the good work that retailers have done to blend their store and online experiences will be completely undone.

The battle for consistency between online and bricks-and-mortar shopping has been raging for years, and retailers like Missguided must tread carefully to ensure their in-person experience lives up to the digital hype. Much attention will have been paid to the marketing, store layout and such like, but it’s the network underpinning their store that will define their ability to deliver what customers want.

 

 

 

15 stories that defined retail in 2015

It hardly seems like five minutes since the January sales were underway, yet already we’ve reached the end of the year – and what a year it’s been!

Following on from our 6 stories that redefined retail in the first six months of 2015, here are 15 unpredictable tales that have shaken the industry across the entire year.

In no particular order…

  1. House of Fraser undergoes a customer-centric restructure

It’s already been predicted that 2016 will be the year in which omnichannel evolution results in infrastructural change, and House of Fraser is leading the way. In July, the department store chain announced a customer-centric revamp of its business model, in which its CRM, product and multichannel functions work together around shopper needs.

  1. Amazon goes Prime-tastic in the UK

If Black Friday and Cyber Monday weren’t enough, Amazon launched its own flash sale – Prime Day – in the summer. The inaugural event was hailed a global success, generating a 93% increase in Year-on-Year sales.

Read our blog: Amazon’s Prime Day highlights the gap between online and in-store promotions

  1. Argos ups its delivery game

Fulfilment has been a hotly contest battleground throughout 2015, and Argos put its stake in the ground during October with the launch of a UK same day delivery service, 7 days a week.

This went hand-in-hand with a reinvigorated click-and-collect offering, promising in store collection in less than 60 seconds.

  1. Marks & Spencer puts the Spark back into its loyalty scheme

It’s been a turbulent couple of years for Marks & Spencer, but its revamped loyalty scheme – released in October – may engender greater customer advocacy, by incentivising shoppers for non-transactional activities.

Read our blog: Has Marks & Spencer sparked a smarter way to increase loyalty?

  1. Littlewoods waves goodbye to its catalogue

For many consumers, the Littlewoods catalogue has been a retail institution throughout their lives. However, after 80 years – and earlier promises that it would remain a trading channel – the retailer decided to scrap its catalogue and focus on its online offering.

  1. HMV rises from the ashes

If you’d been asked two years ago to predict which retailer would be the biggest physical retailer of music in the UK in 2015, the administration-bound HMV would have been a rank outsider.

However, a renewed customer-focus strategy, better processes for dealing with peak trading promotions than its rivals, and a resurgence in the appeal of vinyl have all contributed to HMV’s fortunes flourishing once more.

  1. Lush inhales the sweet smell of success

Cosmetics brand Lush deposed insurance firm First Direct as the UK’s best brand for customer experience in 2015, according to KPMG Nunwood rankings. KMPG remarked that the brand’s imparting of product knowledge has been essential to its success, with several other top 10 retailers combining content and commerce to enhance the customer experience.

  1. Wet weather dampens summer sales

The UK experienced its worst retail sales since November 2008 in August this year, with unseasonably damp weather contributing to poor performance on the high street. Online sales did increase during the summer, but at some of the slowest rates on record.

  1. John Lewis starts charging for click-and-collect

Given that most of the retail industry is incentivising customers to collect in store with a free despatch service, an eyebrow or two was raised when John Lewis decided to start charging for click-and-collect orders under £30.

The retailer reasoned that fewer than 1 in 5 shoppers currently make click-and-collect purchases under £30, and it needs a more sustainable model for managing store-based fulfilment costs.

  1. River Island lets customers click and not collect

Continuing the click-and-collect theme, River Island evolved its offering in a different direction during November, pioneering a ‘click and don’t collect’ theme in partnership with Shutl.

The service uses Shutl’s on demand delivery platform to re-route in-store collection orders for home delivery, in order to give customers greater control over their last mile experience.

  1. John Lewis breaks the internet…but Sainsbury’s wins the Christmas ad war

When John Lewis released its Man on the Moon festive advert in November it was viewed so many times that YouTube’s counter froze for several hours. However, the department store chain was trumped by Sainsbury’s, which was voted best Christmas ad by Opinium Research for its tale of Mog the Cat.

  1. Black Friday falls flat on the High Street

The scrums in the aisles that were synonymous with Black Friday 2014 were not repeated this year, as the post-thanksgiving promotion was heavily weighted online. Retail footfall in stores and shopping centres was down 4.05% on Black Friday itself, while ecommerce saw a huge spike in activity that continued right through to Cyber Monday.

  1. The Kurt Geiger shoe fits another foot

They say a change is as good as rest, but when Kurt Geiger was acquired by private equity group Cinven in December, it marked the shoe designer’s third owner in just four years.

Cinven acquired Kurt Geiger for £245million. The company is known for longer-term investments – five years or more – so this could be the start of a new, consistent chapter for the brand.

  1. Customers get cross about connectivity

Poor in-store communications were revealed as a significant cost to customer relationships in a Vodat study published in August. Our survey found that a third of consumers have abandoned a purchase because they couldn’t get the information they needed prior to purchase, while 4 in 10 have left a store and sought the item elsewhere.

Download our report: why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network

  1. Despite tribulations, retailers end 2015 cautiously confident

It’s not been an easy journey for the retail industry over the past 12 months, but many are hopeful of a strong showing in 2016.

Improving economic sentiment and steady Christmas sales point to positive growth in the New Year, with major cultural events such as the Rio Olympic Games and European Football Championships set to keep shoppers happy – and spending – into the summer months.

 

Amazon’s Prime Day highlights the gap between online and in-store promotions

You have to hand it to Amazon; never one to stand still, in the last couple of weeks alone, the e-tailer has announced a new one-hour fulfilment service in London for Prime customers, along with a one-day flash sale – Prime Day – held today (15th July).

Designed to mimic Black Friday, although it is unlikely to have the same furore initially, it’s a clever way to clear the decks of unwanted stock, stimulate demand in what is a traditionally quiet retail month, and get more customers signed up to its premium delivery service.

Many online rivals will feel a certain degree of tension about Prime Day; yet again, Amazon is using a loss-leading fulfilment strategy to create marketing headlines. However, it’s not just ecommerce that should be concerned.

The increasing frequency with which ecommerce providers are launching flash sales is widening the gap between what promotions look like online, and what they look like in-store.

Of course, the digital world is always going to move quicker than bricks-and-mortar – it’s a lot easier to roll out something virtually – but the faster shoppers have access to discounts or multi-buy deals on a website, the less value for money they feel they are getting in the store.

To combat this perception, retailers need to be drawing on technology to bring real-time capabilities to the store. For example, rather than building marketing campaigns around direct marketing and paper vouchers, they need to be running ‘on the spot’ promotions through shoppers’ mobile devices when they visit the store.

This way, rather than hitting them with special offers when they’re not ready to buy, they can dangle something real to their agenda at that point in time as they browse the aisles. Targeting consumers’ smartphones also enables them to tailor that offering based on their exact location, or their purchasing history, to make the proposition even more relevant.

Don’t forget – if bricks-and-mortar can get the offer right, it has the added advantage of giving shoppers the chance to touch and try a product before they buy. Online can’t do this, which ultimately limits the appeal of some products.

 

Is your store ready for the mobile shopper?

Fashion retailers are immersed in one of the most competitive markets out there. With constantly changing trends to keep up with, meeting customer demands has always been difficult to achieve.

Alongside this, retailers now have consumers’ tech-addiction to contend with. As new devices constantly hit the market, shoppers are being presented with alternative ways to browse and pay for goods – with fashion being the first stop it seems!

According to the latest research from the British Retail Consortium, UK consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to shop online, particularly when it comes to buying clothes. In fact, popularity is soaring, with smartphone searches rising by over 50% since last year.

While this may seem intimidating for bricks-and-mortar stores, there’s no reason why they can’t embrace mobile technology too. It’s very likely that most customers will be carrying a smartphone, so why not see the device as an untapped resource to help boost business?

Many retailers are already doing just that. UK shoe specialist Clarks has noticed the appeal of mobile to today’s shopper, and actually promotes the service to passers-by. Featuring stickers in their shop windows, Clarks urges shoppers to use their devices in-store to browse their entire product range online. This not only caters to consumers’ growing reliance on technology, it encourages them to complete their full journey in the store – even if their desired item might not be there at that time.

Some retailers are taking this one step further, creating mobile apps aimed to enhance the store experience. Ted Baker is a great example of this, finding a way to combine mobile and beacon technology to draw in more shoppers. The retailer’s Westfield White City store recently installed beacons in its mannequins, allowing them to send push notifications to customer smartphones about the displayed items. If the shopper has downloaded the Ted Baker app, they will be able to quickly purchase the clothing directly from the website.

However, before retailers consider launching an in-store mobile strategy, there are some factors to consider. For one, there’s no use advertising mobile services if their website is not mobile optimised. Surprisingly, Barclays recently revealed 70% of UK retailers have admitted they do not have a responsive website or an app in place – which can be very off-putting for a smartphone shopper.

Secondly, retailers must ensure they have a robust Wi-Fi network in place if they are offering mobile facilities in the store. A slow internet service will not only discourage customers from using it in the first place, but will likely open doors to complaints too.

Mobile offers a very lucrative opportunity to build stronger relationships that drive revenue in the store. However, retailers need to get the basics right to create a solid foundation on which to build impressive customer experiences.

How to embrace online in your retail store

If the path to true love never did run smooth, then it must be true love between consumers and retail stores. Despite the overwhelming majority of shoppers still using bricks and mortar for most of their purchases, the growth of online retail and, most recently, mCommerce, has forced retailers to integrate activity in the aisles with digital touch points.

But while much has been said about the complexities this brings to retailers and hospitality vendors, it seems the growth of multi-channel shopping has strong benefits. According to a new report by dunnhumby, multi-channel customers are far more valuable to brands than those who stick to one shopping channel – in fact, they are worth 28% more in terms of potential sales.

With this mind, it’s retailers with a bricks and mortar presence pushed themselves even harder to integrate digital into the physical shopping experience. And here are 3 key ways to do it:

WiFi

Research by GfK has revealed that 20% of consumers browsing a retail store are doing so whilst monitoring prices on their smartphone. This trend is known, known as showrooming, isn’t something to fear. In fact, to prove competitiveness at the shelf edge, retailers should make the process as easy as possible by ensuring your store is equipped with guest WiFi. Pair this with some form of price-matching guarantee to increase sales conversions.

Digital technology

Tablets and smartphones aren’t just convenience devices for consumer use; retailers can incorporate digital technology into store kiosks to offer unattended customer service – or use them within customer interactions to assist the sales experience. This has the added benefit of bringing online capabilities into the store, such as instant stock checks and increasing inventory availability.

Click-and-collect

It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but there are still many stores that have not perfected their click-and-collect offering for customers. Many shoppers find there is more choice and availability online, so choose to shop this way instead. Providing them with the option to pick up their order in store gives shoppers greater fulfilment flexibility. Upon arriving at the store, the shopper may feel tempted by the products in front of them – presenting your staff an opportunity to engage with that customer face-to-face and upsell.

Essentially, consumers buy into brands, not channels. They don’t care how the touch points they use test retailers’ resources; they want their goods in the most convenient manner, with a trusted and consistent experience every time.

Retail businesses that understand this behaviour, and work to integrate all their channels into a single brand experience, will be the ones to benefit from the added potential value of multi-channel shopping.

Tis the season to test your multi-channel experience to breaking point

It might feel like Christmas is coming earlier every year, but this year it really is – according to research by the Ideal Home Show, the average person has been shopping for gifts since 24th October, and will have purchased 14 presents by the time December begins.

In theory, this should make things easier for retailers, as it spreads consumer activity across a broader time frame. However, 2014 is set to be one of the most complex Christmases on record for multi-channel retail businesses.

Why?

The rise of click and collect will see cross-channel activity surge. It’s estimated that 95% of online shoppers will use click and collect this Christmas rather than wait around all day for a delivery.

For the store, this means sales associates are having to deal with two distinct strands of shopper; those who’ve arrived to collect an order, and those in search of goods.

This influx of click and collectors increases not only traffic on the shop floor, but the strain on resources – more people logging onto in-store WiFi, longer queues, the increased complexity of processing online orders and additional transactions resulting from impulse purchases.

In theory it sounds like a fantastic opportunity for multi-channel retailers. However, gain can quickly turn to pain if your business does not have the optimum operational set-up or a robust network to cope with the pressure placed on it during the festive period.

Now more than any other time of the year, consumers’ tolerance levels are low. Particularly if they’ve ordered online, shoppers want to be in and out of your store as quickly as possible. This relies on both a well-managed in-store experience and a smooth collection process – both of which rely on operational technology being used to its greatest effect.

The Christmas rush may have already begun, but retailers still have time to act before it reaches its peak. Multi-channel businesses are well advised to align their systems, staff and stores sooner rather than later, rather than count the cost of poorly handled cross-channel custom in the New Year.