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Balancing bricks and clicks: how to stay competitive in the retail industry

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio)

The high street, as we know it, is changing. Just last month, Debenhams announced that it was going to be closing some of its stores (opens in new tab) to take a more digital approach while, more recently, Mothercare declared it would be closing a number of its high street branches (opens in new tab) in order to focus on a few locations which would act as specialist advice and service points to support online sales.   

The fact is that, these days, ecommerce has completely redefined our expectations of retail experiences. We now want our physical channels to reflect the digital ones, and we want every touch point to be engaging and hassle-free. In fact, recent research from Fujitsu (opens in new tab) revealed that consumers, today, want the traditional bricks and mortar stores to embrace technology and deliver a complete and compelling shopping experience – one that is personalised and tailored to them as individuals.   

For example, almost half (45%) of UK consumers (opens in new tab) said they would most like retailers to send them personalised offers while they are shopping in-store and a third (33%) said they would love to use smart mirrors which could display information about additional products they might like. What’s more, the majority of consumers (79%) said a better digital experience would encourage them to send more money. 

With these facts and figures in mind, it’s time to get digital. Need we forget the unfortunate fate suffered by Jaeger earlier this year? Much like BHS before it, Jaeger’s failure to capitalise on the growth of online shopping and embrace digital meant the retailer was outpaced by its competitors which had adapted their services to meet changing consumer buying habits.   

So what do retailers need to be doing to remain competitive in this challenging retail landscape?  

A mobile revolution 

Mobile has had a profound impact on how we shop. It’s quick and convenient, and as a result, over half of online sales (opens in new tab) are now made through mobile devices. Brands are consequently having to respond quickly to this shift in consumer behaviour and we are starting to see that many retailers are, indeed, working hard to deliver the digital experience their customers demand.   

Boohoo, for example, does an excellent job of engaging its customers online – so much so that the company’s value grew from £560m in 2014, to £2bn in 2017 (opens in new tab). Having been built entirely off the back of the digital economy, the retailer understands the importance of mobile-friendly experiences, delivering offers and promotions to its customers at the right time, via the right channel. Debenhams, too, now has plans to make it easier for customers to buy through their phones as well as driving personalised promotions through this medium - given that all retail sales growth (opens in new tab)  have come from consumer shopping via mobile. 

Mobile has essentially become an integral channel to balance a traditional bricks and mortar presence and the online world. Savvy shoppers are increasingly using the two channels to gain the best customer experience possible; stock checking via their mobiles or finding out whether they could get a better deal with a brand online. This shift to mobile is also empowering consumers to demand instantaneous gratification from any interaction with a retailer. The very nature of the ‘always on’ society means that consumers expect to be able to engage with retailers 24/7.   

But being able to communicate with your customers when they need you isn’t enough, and retailers need to be prepared to communicate with them on their terms. And consumers want to communicate via the channel that best suits their circumstances and preferences, whether that be via an app, social media, SMS or email. Retailers also need to communicate with their customers across channels seamlessly, with conversations on one platform contextualising those on another – both physical and digital. 

The secret ingredient: data 

In order to have these contextually relevant communications with consumers, and continue conversations with a customer once they’ve left the store, data proves invaluable.   

In-store WiFi and Point of Sale (POS) systems can act as incredibly useful data capture tools. They enable retailers to develop a deeper understanding of their customers – such as whether they are repeat customers. When a customer makes a purchase in store, retailers can capture data to know who is visiting the store and can then push personalised messages and offers to them. What’s more, for one time visitors, retailers can incentivise their return by delivering personalised discounts – via email or SMS – that make reference to their previous interactions at a certain store, for example.   

Combine this in-store insight with data on an individual’s online user behaviour, and the level of personalisation is taken up a notch. Imagine you’ve just been browsing for a pair of jeans but the retailer doesn’t have your size available. You’re more than likely going to close the page and forget about them. But if that retailer then sends you a message informing you that those jeans are now at your local store, and in your size, you are going to be encouraged to purchase them. This is a prime example of how timely and relevant communications can bridge that gap between bricks and clicks, and ultimately drive sales for otherwise abandoned purchases.  

The challenge is, however, consolidating these various data sources including POS, ERP, delivery tracking systems, and so on, into a single platform. But by successfully bringing customer and real time demographic data, location triggers and behavioural information into one platform, retailers can begin to engage with customers in more meaningful ways. They are better positioned to push offers to customers based on any previous interactions and transactions they’ve had with the brand, tailored to their location and purchasing preferences.   

Ahead of the race  

While the retail landscape may seem a bit gloomy right now, the high street is far from dead. Physical stores hold so many opportunities, but only if retailers embrace digital. It’s clear that consumers want the best of both worlds and by delivering the ‘bricks and clicks’ experience, retailers are certainly going to position themselves miles ahead of their competitors.    

Adopting a digital first approach, and making the most of the data, is critical to survival. Consumers demand highly personalised experiences and, therefore, getting the right messages to the right people at the right time is going to ensure your brand remains at front of mind. It’s time for retailers to get the balance right and deliver the ultimate customer experience through every touch point.   

Simon Brennan, VP Sales at Engage Hub (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Maxx-Studio / Shutterstock

Simon Brennan, VP Sales at data-driven customer engagement solutions company Engage Hub, has over 14 years’ experience in the customer engagement sector. He is an expert in improving corporate customer communication, successfully delivering cross-channel communication solutions across multiple divisions within organisations.