By: James Barlow, Country Manager at Akeneo
As we spring back to normality, footfall will no doubt continue to rise as UK retail resumes its shift back to pre-pandemic activity. Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium display this transition with a 10% growth in in-store sales for June. This journey to normality hasn’t been easy however, after more than a year of hardship faced by the country’s retailers. The forced closure of the high street has meant that many retailers have had to adapt to the shift in consumer buying habits in order to survive. Some took the pandemic in their stride by taking advantage of the power of digital to reach wider audiences. Other big household names, such as Gap were left with no choice but to close their 81 stores across the UK and Ireland for good.
Retailers have had to rethink their digital strategies and adapt drastically to growing demand. To remain competitive, they must now leverage digital technologies at every touchpoint, whether it be offline or online. The future of retail will be hybrid, where retailers will need to implement a successful omnichannel strategy in order to stay afloat. Not only do they need to cover all bases when it comes to the various digital channels available, such as marketplaces, social media and search engines, but also create a compelling experience in-store, by using technology to improve internal and external operations.
Tips for a successful omnichannel strategy
1.Optimise the customer journey with new technologies
Ever since the pandemic began, retailers have struggled with technology. To make matters worse, the retail sector is currently facing a major skills crisis and many don’t have the workforce with the correct skills to implement the relevant technologies. A report by Retail Week stated that 62% of retail leaders are struggling to find people with the right experience, highlighting the skills gap as their biggest challenge in building an omnichannel business. Regardless of challenges, retailers should make a conscious effort to implement these technologies and equip their workforce with the skills of tomorrow, opening up a range of opportunities for the customer journey. Investment into technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, blockchain and data science will produce long-term ROI, making it crucial to a customer-centric approach. Introducing the right mix of these technologies will enable retailers to build meaningful interactions and fully personalise the experience, maintain retention rates and develop loyalty amongst their customer base.
2.Integrate online and offline interactions
As we move out of the pandemic, customers will be looking for enhanced flexibility. Some shoppers will be happy to return to stores as normal, however some may not feel comfortable walking around a busy shop. Retailers need to go the extra mile to deliver another layer of flexibility, allowing customers to shop in whichever way they choose, eliminating any pain points that may be preventing them from making a purchase. For example, a Buy Online Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS) option will provide further flexibility to the omnichannel experience. Retailers can take control of their entire product range by implementing a Product Information Management (PIM) tool to ensure the products are presented accurately, seamlessly and in a manner that suits their customers.
3.Leverage in-store digitisation
The competition amongst retailers is fierce and the contest for customers is even fiercer. Whilst it’s important to have a seamless online experience, we can’t neglect the in-store experience. An immersion of the senses by shopping in-store will create a unique experience for customers. All encounters that consumers have with retailers are important, therefore making a lasting impression needs to be top priority. It is important too, to take advantage of any available ‘easy wins’, such as reproducing the quality of product information available on brands’ websites on the shop floor. By making these improvements, retailers can ensure customers feel like they’re getting the best of both shopping experiences, rather than compromising the quality of their journey.
Bringing customers in-store is a vital opportunity to turn casual shoppers into loyal customers, also driving them to shop online. One way to link these two experiences is in-store digitisation. Technologies like AR, AI, VR and voice automation have already transformed physical retail. In addition, interactive features such as QR codes and tablets have enabled businesses to tailor the experience to serve the customers needs. We’ve also recently seen cashless shopping come into fruition, with the likes of Amazon Fresh trialing this in their London stores.
For retailers to capitalise on the post-pandemic spending spree, they’ll need to move fast when it comes to digital products and experiences. By onboarding new technologies and partnering with digital solutions companies, retailers can cater for the evolving shopping habits of consumers and create efficiencies within their business. Covid-19 aside, flexibility will be vital to the future of the retail experience. Staying ahead of the technology curve will help to future-proof the business, preparing retailers for any future challenges that the retail sector could face and any competition that may arise.