A pandemic-driven shift in business models and priorities has altered the retail industry. Changes in how consumers engage with your brand and what they expect from you mean rethinking your business strategy.
Are you prepared to succeed in the “new retail”?
To get a sense of retail’s current state, and where it’s headed, we talked with notable fashion management and marketing lecturer Giulia Massera. With more than 20 years of professional experience in driving growth and developing talent with organizations like Accenture, J.W. Thompson, and Ralph & Russo, she has a pulse on what’s happening in retail—and what to expect.
Here’s what she had to say.
Retail amidst a pandemic
The increase in in-home activity (working, socializing, and shopping from home) changed how people interact with retail. Ecommerce use exploded during 2020 and, according to Giulia, it has become a mainstay for businesses across the industry.
At the same time, consumers also had a chance to refocus priorities. The past two years have brought a lot of social and environmental issues to the forefront. And people expect brands to be mindful and proactive about their responsibility.
But that doesn’t mean that luxury or spending are gone. Consumer optimism and spending remain strong. People are ready to engage. And companies need to be ready to meet their needs, which means investing in both technology and purpose.
The convenience of tech
A top priority for effective digital interaction is creating an “invisible click” when consumers buy.
“We live in a ‘clickable’ world. I want it, I create it or I find it, I have it. All in a click.”
Customers don’t want to think too much about the consuming process, Giulia adds. They don’t want to know the details of the technology behind that click. So, you need to make it seamless.
People are also looking for in-store digitalization. Touchless scanning and easy checkout serve health concerns, providing ease of use and ease of mind.
The power of purpose
The pandemic ushered new priorities in how people live—and consume. At the same time, there’s a global focus on sustainability, inclusion, and business ethics. “This is a clear U-turn within the retail industry, where it’s not simply about revenue or storytelling but about values,” says Giulia.
Smart retail companies are using COVID as an opportunity to rethink their purpose, positioning, and partnerships. They’re leading the market by finding a new balance between revenue and customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What customers want
Consumers are looking for brands that support their values. And they want frictionless interactions in-store and online that let them buy with ease and from safe distances. So how do you cater to both?
By providing a consistent brand experience, as Giulia suggests.
Establish your position within the market and also within the community and the greater world. Make it clear what you stand for by promoting causes and practicing your values. Show customers you care about their experience by adhering to the “single-click” principle.
The value of omnichannel
Between AR, VR, NFTs, cryptocurrency, and now the Metaverse technology, consumers’ digital lives are becoming as real as their physical lives. To reach them, reduce the distance between the online and the offline identity and experience.
“Who your company is online must mirror who you are offline to create trust and confidence.”
Keep the experience consistent by ensuring your values and improved processes show up online as well as in-person.
Offer evidence of your principles in action (think Patagonia’s commitment to reduce, reuse, and recycle over making the sale) both in-store and online through your site and social media. And ensure interactions are equally consumer-friendly in any medium Giulia adds.
Building the new retail store
Giulia predicts that the principles of focusing on purpose and creating a seamless omnichannel experience are here to stay. If you want to prepare your organization to follow, or better yet, lead these retail trends, invest in both your tech and your relationship-building efforts.
According to Giulia, what will change is not what you’re trying to achieve as much as how you’re achieving it. “I find that the ‘how’ in each role in the retail industry is changing,” she says.
Here are three key “how”s you can assess to see where changes may prepare your company to stand out and thrive.
1. How you express your messages
The way you communicate your purpose needs to be authentic. Consumers will see through any attempt at pretense. Your messaging and voice “must be inclusive, with a positive accent on diversity and authenticity,” says Giulia.
Make your values a part of your organization from the ground up. Educate your employees on your purpose to make sure they’re internalizing your ideals and making the connection to the work they do.
Roll out company-specific and general retail courses online for maximum impact. Using the right software, including a retail training platform, will help you work around retail staff’s busy schedules. It’ll give you the flexibility you need to encourage real engagement and learning.
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2. How you deliver your messages
The way you communicate and interact with consumers is just as important as the message you’re expressing. Engaging consumers is not simply about promotions or discounts. It’s about building a relationship, giving them space to share their ideas, and creating a unique interactive experience.
Be flexible. Provide a human touch and personalization in both face-to-face and online communications. Show consumers you see them and their pain points by providing helpful ways of engaging and getting right to the root of their concerns.
Educate them upfront to set them up for success. That means meaningful social media and individual contact. It also means updated and informative support and even customer training.
3. How you achieve your KPIs
Reaching your company goals is not simply a matter of tracking revenue. If your company is founded on a purpose you and your customers care about, client loyalty is going to be a key predictor of trends and success.
Focus on efforts that will impact client loyalty. Pay attention to local development. Keep the process as seamless and “invisible” as possible, reducing any kind of waste in your client interactions (including time).
Focusing on these aspects of the business will be key to achieving your KPIs for this year and beyond.
A look into the future of retail
New consumer expectations are strongly founded on purpose and relationships. People don’t just buy stuff. They support brands and want to feel valued by those brands. Investing in both tech and people will help you connect with customers and grow your market share going forward.
That may mean making changes to existing work and even organizational structures. But now is the time to take the leap. As Giulia puts it, if you want to succeed in the new retail, ”look at COVID as an opportunity to rebuild around a new stronger purpose and adaptable business strategies.”