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.

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.