07 January 2019 What it takes to survive – and win – in retail

To (mis)quote the words of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain),

“Reports of the death of the high street have been greatly exaggerated”

Retail businesses, whether bricks, clicks or both have been suffering in recent times with many high profile companies in the news with serious problems. Cases in point, House of Fraser’s collapse into administration last August and ASOS’ pre-Christmas woes that saw 40 per cent wiped off its share price in a single day.  So, to say that the demise of the “high street” is largely due to the rise in online shopping is simply not true. Of course, it has had an impact but many failing retailers operate across multiple channels.

It is also wrong to use the term ‘high street’ as a generic term for all types of bricks and mortar retailing – out of town shopping centres, retail parks, the variety of consumer-facing businesses in a town and the local convenience store are fundamentally different in terms of proposition, challenges and opportunities.

The fact is that retailers of all types to survive need to change by understanding what their customers want and how, what will make them keep coming back and, most importantly, not have to continually slash their margins in a ferocious race to the bottom – if this continues then the industry will be the architect of its own demise. 

Price will always be important and for certain types of shopper the only thing that matters (often by necessity) so just accept they will be promiscuous in their habits and the cost of their patronage may be too high for many. It already has been in many cases.

Then there’s Brexit: ‘Stores slashing Christmas prices by 80% as Brexit hits the high street’ screamed a Metro headline mid-December. Sure, we might reasonably expect Brexit uncertainty to have some impact, but come on!

No commentary about the so-called death of the so-called high street would be complete without reference to the so-called ‘retail apocalypse’. While this term may be a relatively new one in a UK context, it’s losing editorial space on the other side of the Atlantic where it reached fever pitch in early 2017 but is gradually being replaced – at least to some degree – by the much more optimistic ‘retail renaissance’. We would do well to acknowledge this.

Ultimately, to survive and win, it has to be about experience – this does not always mean theatre, big events or music shows but can be about service, personalised relevance of offers/information and even congruence with “what matters to me” (ethics, community, local provenance, social responsibility, etc.).

Delivering the right experiences will vary enormously depending upon timing of visit, mission, type and location of the retailer and within the context of what is around them to allow the visitors to meet multiple needs – shopping, leisure, food, services, parking, safety, etc. This could be a true ‘high street’ just as much as an out of town shopping centre.

To achieve this requires actionable insight about shoppers – and that comes from granular data of what they say and do, captured and built upon continually – that the retailer must own and utilise to align every aspect of their business and customer engagement to meet the needs and wants of those shoppers. This must also include collaboration with stakeholders, partners and other businesses in the area – so insight beyond one’s own four walls and online presence. 

The key is then to be able to utilise (in a GDPR compliant way, of course) this insight to deliver personalised and relevant experiences and engagement both directly via email, SMS, social media, push messages and through integration to such as mobile apps, dynamic content on digital screens, shelf-edge displays and IOT devices!

This is what Velocity Worldwide helps its clients to achieve with its data, personalisation and insights software platform, Darius® for Retail, and a comprehensive managed service, based on 20 years of expertise.

To quote Samuel Clemens again (accurately this time)

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. 

David Morgan, Velocity Worldwide




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