By Nigel Ashman, President, ONVU Retail
The challenges facing the retail environment have been going on for about a decade and the pandemic only made things more challenging. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers are quite profitable, and the wide range of differences based on myriad factors are only increasing over time. The fact is that retail has changed and those operating businesses in these sectors must get more creative than ever before to retain business and exceed customer satisfaction.
Today’s successful retailers are the ones that are realising that the physical store is a crucial place to establish a brand and build trust. Physical retail locations are places where the customer can physically handle the product, and that experience cannot be replicated online. Even online retailers are moving forward with plans to secure physical retail space because they recognise aspects of the online experience that are not the same as going to a physical store.
The fact is that it is more than the physical experience; this is what retail has evolved into. Some of the most successful retailers we are working with are repurposing their stores. The stores are becoming a destination and becoming the center of an overall experience. The retail experience is at a point where customers get the product they need and then have the opportunity to have a coffee or pick up a book at the same time.
For example, our biggest customer in the UK has an almost entirely split business between online and physical. Customers can have an online parcel delivered to a store, and delivery is complimentary. It’s an intelligent approach because once they are in the store, they will browse and pick up something that wasn’t necessarily the focus of their trip. This approach merges online into the physical space and vice versa.
Retailers must keep sight of who their customer is, what their customer is looking for and what they need to keep doing to meet these needs. When a retailer loses sight of what the customer requires or gets stuck waiting for businesses to return to what it was, they will struggle. All the retailers that have closed in the last year were unable to react and evolve to changing demands. The retailers that are ahead today were ahead of the curve even before COVID and made a point to be agile.
Right now, as more retailers reopen their doors, there is tremendous opportunity for physical retailers to get ahead of their online counterparts. The fact remains that retail shopping is an emotional experience. I use the term retail therapy, and that signifies what the retail experience is about for many consumers. But even with that foundation, you need to have the right products and the right environment to provide the customer service element that you don’t get online.
It comes down to the fact that retail delivers a human element. Smart retailers realise that providing a human experience is part of their massive strength.