Retailers are reeling from the impact of Covid-19. In the wake of the pandemic, one of the most important lessons we have all learned is to expect the unexpected. But to truly thrive against whatever may lay ahead, retailers of all sizes from boutique shops to department stores, as well as artisan food and drink producers need to do more than simply await unanticipated hurdles – they need to be ready to adapt quickly in order to survive and drive long-term success.
The pandemic is just one example of a major challenge the retail sector has had to face. According to intelligence on the European retail sector from Panasonic Business and WBR Insights1, there are a number of hurdles retailers are facing including sustainability, customer experience, growing consumer demand for personalisation and rising real estate costs. While existing and emerging challenges are a concern, wondering how to adapt to the next unknown issue is also likely to be a major source of anxiety.
Retailers should consider taking these key steps to help improve their agility against future uncertainty:
1. Strengthen loyalty with great customer engagement
Every retailer understands the importance of customer loyalty, but during times of uncertainty, loyal returning customers are even more important for ensuring on-going revenue and profitability. Consumer engagement is key to securing repeat store visits and purchases, so wherever possible retailers should be doing what they can to build meaningful relationships with customers.
Loyalty programmes can reach customers through multiple channels, from emails and targeted social media campaigns to incentivising them to into stores with personalised coupons or offers based on purchasing behaviour. While many retailers already do this, global research by KPMG suggests consumers aren’t particularly impressed by existing loyalty programmes with a majority (78%) saying they would switch to a company that offers a better programme and 69% saying it’s too difficult to join most schemes and earn rewards2.
More thought into how loyalty programmes can be revamped and simplified will help rebuild the customer relationship and provide better value for both parties. This combined with stronger personalised communications achieved by understanding the types of incentive that will resonate with customers can enhance the customer experience and with the right technology in place can be done relatively quickly and cost-effectively.
2. Tap into changing consumer trends
Understanding existing and emerging consumer trends is essential to both driving loyalty with existing customers and improving perception among prospective customers. When faced with challenges that put the business at risk, having a customer base that knows the business is catering for their changing demands can help to stabilise sales.
Sustainability is a prime example of a consumer trend that retailers can tap into. Over 40% of European consumers expect companies to be accountable for their environmental impact, and one-quarter of consumers make sustainability considerations when shopping, including environmental and social responsibility and transparency about the origins of a product3.
According to Deloitte, retailers that don’t prioritise sustainability now are at risk of not surviving the next 5-10 years4. Reflecting consumer trends in products and services and communicating what those trends mean to the business is essential to building consumer confidence.
3. Investing in tech that will provide real value in times of need
Unlocking the flexibility to adapt to challenges immediately is essential to becoming agile and retailers can leverage technology to help. This should involve a realistic assessment of how useful the technology you’re implementing in-store will actually be when faced with the unexpected.
There has been plenty of buzz around experiential retail which uses immersive customer-facing technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality to enhance the in-store experience, but these can be quite costly and the return questionable when a retailer needs to quickly respond to sudden changing circumstances. Retailers should consider smaller investments in technologies that provide everyday value and the flexibility to quickly adapt.
Take visual communications, for example. Being able to print signage and customer communications in-store and on-demand are not only useful for day-to-day operations, it can also help retailers adapt and diversify in the face of unanticipated demands and adversity. By installing a device such as an OKI retail ready colour printer or MFP with unrivalled media handling capabilities including waterproof, UV resistant and self-adhesive media of from A6 up to 1.3m long, retailers can flexibly adapt to new market trends, customer demands or changing government guidelines on the fly. From personalised labels, sustainable packaging, vouchers, flyers, shelf and till point signage, floor and window stickers, free standing and hanging banners as well as everyday document printing in-store and so much more. This could include delivering personalised products and services, operating more sustainably, pivoting to new operating models or rapidly changing store messaging to enhance the in-store customer experience and to keep shoppers coming through the door safely.
Prepare for the unknown
It’s impossible to predict every challenge that might emerge today, tomorrow or further into the future. Yet retailers that foster strong and enduring bonds with their customers, recognise and accommodate changing consumer preferences and invest wisely in resources that improve their flexibility will be the ones that are best positioned to overcome whatever is thrown at them. As Charles Darwin outlined in The Origin of Species, it is those that are the most adaptable to change that will have the best chances of survival.