The high street has seen one of its toughest years ever. In the UK, nearly 6,000 shops, travel agencies, and estate agents closed their doors in 2017, more single-year closures than in any year since 2010. The trend has continued into 2018, with legacy brands such as House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer also announcing they will be shutting outlets as more people shop online. In this piece, Vijayanta Gupta (pictured below), head of go-to-market, Adobe Experience Cloud, tells RetailTechNews how retailers must look to future-proof their business, if they are to avoid the same fate.
These developments would suggest all is doom and gloom, but this is only half the story. For every major brand that is struggling, there are also retailers turning things around and adapting to new digital ways of working.
These success stories have achieved this by aligning their in-store and online offering. Retailers understand they must close the gap between their own digital capabilities and the digital services that today’s customers demand, and a majority are beginning to do so. Adobe’s research found that 72% of retailers plan to increase their digital marketing spend to meet the needs of customers craving digital experiences.
While encouraging, this investment in marketing technology is only half the battle. Just 25% of retailers plan to invest in upskilling their staff to work with these technologies. To deliver a modern service that matches what consumers want, brands must also empower their workforce with the skills and direction they need to achieve this.
Here are four tips on how retailers can adapt their people, technologies, and approach to the needs of today’s market and continue to thrive:
Personalisation through data, with help from AI
Retailers have never had more data at their disposal with which to enhance customer journeys. Predictive analytics and a deeper understanding of customers allow them to deliver more personalised services. The key to getting this right is a coherent data strategy. Information kept in silos has no context and adds minimal value.
AI-driven machine learning has upped the ante by allowing retailers to dig further into their data and deliver more relevant, individualised experiences. Brand can build hyper-personalised profiles in just minutes, and use these to make their targeting as robust as possible.
Promote a customer-centric culture
Disruptive retail brands have won market share because they are built on a customer-first digital culture from the inside out. This is how they are able to align the retail experience across online, mobile, and physical channels. Greater alignment starts with a company’s leadership, which must be committed to building cross-departmental bridges and rewarding collaborative behaviour. Without a unified culture, retailers will be stuck with the same data silos and deliver the type of disjointed experiences that customers no longer tolerate.
Invest in digital marketing and skills
Adobe’s 2018 Digital Trends report found that companies that have boosted their investment in digital marketing are more likely to exceed their business goals. Top-performing companies are twice as likely to be planning significant investment in digital skills and education to ensure their employees stay on top of the latest trends and tools available. By investing in both technology and people, retailers will put themselves in the best position to differentiate their offering through exceptional customer experiences.
Focus on the right processes and collaborative workflows
For retailers, one of the most enduring challenges has been to facilitate collaboration between creative, marketing, and digital teams, and to gain efficiencies out of this alignment. With a single customer experience platform in place, companies can allocate roles and manage tasks more effectively across departments, unifying the way teams work and ensuring that their processes are optimised. In this way, investing in the employee experience helps brands to better manage their digital assets and work more productively.
Argos is just one brand that has put this approach into action. The UK high street stalwart recently transformed its e-commerce and finance functions to improve their understanding of multichannel customers. It also redefined each team’s KPIs as part of this transformation to ensure that its marketing efforts are both deliberate and well-informed. With a better understanding of customer shopping behaviours, both online and in-store, Argos was able to boost its brand relevance, while more targeted marketing spend resulted in higher returns on its investment.
All this talk of digital experiences may suggest that the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is dead. This is by no means the case, but the experience does need to change. Retailers must give customers a reason to leave their homes, whether it’s through added-value services or engaging and entertaining experiences. For instance, some homeware retailers now offer cooking demos or invite celebrity chefs to put these on, turning their store into an event space.
These experiential tactics must also be personalised. They need to be relevant for a brand’s audience, which again comes down to data and customer analytics. Just as importantly, retailers need to promote these events by engaging with the right people on the right channels, be it via targeted social media posts or strategic traditional advertising. Finally, the journey from discovery, to engagement, to sign-up must be as smooth as possible, regardless of which device or platform their customers use.
The gap between retailers who can adapt to an evolving market and those who cling to old ways of working will only widen in the next 12 months. While there is no finish line in this fast-changing sector, there is also no doubt that a closer link between physical and digital customer experiences is the way forward. Even for retailers intent on protecting their position on the high street, it is time for a reset in approach both in-store and online if they want to engage modern customers and continue to drive sales.