Consumer Electronics – the art of interacting with your customers
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If they had been asked in the spring of 2020 what retail would look like in summer/autumn 2021, even the most pessimistic forecaster would have suggested we would be almost back to normal.
In a way, they can claim they were right – it’s just that what we consider “normal” has shifted considerably. Who’d have thought we’d be having our McDonald’s brought out to our cars after ordering on an app? Or that customers in some stores would be politely asked to wear face masks and remain 2 metres apart?
But we are where we are, and although the brick and mortar retail sector might not be quite where it would like to be, there’s still an opportunity for getting more sales through the kinds of measures we have always advocated – surveys, audits, merchandising and displays.
It might be cheating to say you can improve on 2020’s performance, but if you’ve made it to 2020 intact, now’s the time to start taking some proactive measures to power through to ’22.
Public opinions are still in flux as regards distancing and masking. While the trajectory of governmental advice from spring 2021 onwards has been in the “opening up” direction, it’s fair to say the public has always been a lot more cautious – and the health advisors have almost certainly factored that into their advice.
But it’s still vital to test the water for your customers. Older people in general, despite being double jabbed, are those who remain the most cautious. If that’s your market, your brick and mortar experience should reflect it – outdoor eating, click and collect, screens and masking and such like should probably remain.
Younger people, despite not being double or even single jabbed, generally see their risk as lower, and are getting quite fed up with the disruption. It might pay to be seen to be more relaxed to invite them in while protecting staff.
Of course, these generalisations could be way out for your particular sector, so it’s essential that you constantly gauge the mood through surveys. You can do these online or in-store if you want to speak directly to your customers, but remember that those who are staying away will not be included in those face-to-face surveys, but might have been able to offer valuable insights.
Key to convincing people that the in-store experience is more fulfilling is the array of measures you take to bring the store, and its products, to life. We’ve spoken extensively about the importance of sample stands, window displays and experiential retail to get people into the store and to enjoy the experience at a sensual level.
These have always been important to physical retail spaces, but if the rise of eCommerce made them desirable, the need to attract people back into the shops in pre-pandemic numbers make them essential. If you’re not already, or if you have been putting off a major retail merchandising push until you’re sure it will pay off, the time for hesitation could be over.
Few experts are saying Covid is over – the UK’s promising vaccination figures are not replicated around the world, after all – but there is a noticeable shift in mindset nationally. Customers are willing to patronise shops, restaurants and entertainment venues that show they are safe, so it’s up to retailers to not only put those measures in place, but also to show they are doing it with signage, displays and POS installations.
Ultimately, retailers who don’t forget that they are selling products, services and experiences that customers actually want – and have always wanted – are the ones that will be the first to start thriving once the UK settles into its new normal.
We can’t lose sight of the fact that many customers have quite enjoyed some of the distancing measures. For example, table service in cafes has been particularly popular compared to wandering around trying to find a table with a hot cup of coffee. Knowing what your customers are most comfortable with and then giving it to them is your route to regeneration.
Perhaps the most difficult part of growth as 2021 turns into 2022 will be maintaining the levels and methodologies that have proved successful, while staying creative and relevant.
Our industry is going to see a gradual increase in footfall that could put pressure on staffing levels if retailers are overcautious. We can’t ignore the fact that while the pandemic has been raging, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was finalised and realised, and it has probably led to a shortage of staff in retail, hospitality and logistics. We’ll know for sure when everything settles down.
Some retailers might have to be looking at more creative ways of maintaining customer satisfaction, such as the use of self-service checkouts in sectors other than groceries, and tablet-based experiential and advice stations for customers to interact with. It’s not necessarily a bad thing or a stopgap, of course. Once these technologies have been mastered by retailers and accepted by customers, the opportunities for marketing are limitless, and there will be a noticeable reduction in operational costs, too.
That’s not to say we can overlook the basics. If anything, in a competitive high street, it’s the fundamentals of retail maintenance – repairing, cleaning, stock monitoring, replenishment, spares and so on – that will mark out the stores that look like they’re on top of things from those that appear to be struggling.
Hopefully this area is the one we need to worry the least about. Retail and marketing happen to be the chosen career paths of some of the most creative and analytical people in the workforce. The challenge will be to recognise what has changed and what stays the same, and that will be a moving target that needs to be constantly monitored.
Whereas for decades, retailers have been concerned with winning market share, the past two years have shaken the snow globe of the whole industry and the flurry is still settling. But settle it will, albeit in new ways that nobody foresaw as we were popping champagne corks on New Year’s Eve 2019.
The successful retailers will be those that can read their customers’ minds and offer reassuring service, while recognising that some things might have changed forever. But get the basics of merchandising right, stay creative and be bold, and you’ve got a solid base to build on – we’ll be right here to help you realise your ambitions.