How to ensure bricks & mortar stores thrive in a shifting marketplace

Gone are the days when brands can get away with being all things to all people. A brand must build equity and position itself correctly to thrive. 

The three most important factors brands need to bear in mind when navigating a shifting market are:

  • Be relevant – listen and respond
  • Take a customer-centric approach
  • Be consistent

Ecommerce platforms, peer-to-peer exchange networks and the all-consuming rise of digital has thrown traditional bricks-and-mortar brands into disarray. But by transforming with confidence, physical retail stores can maximise their location and lead with clarity. 

How can retail brands focus and play to their strengths?

As a business, you need to be clear on what your strengths and weaknesses are. Without that understanding you won’t know how to move forward.  Retailers that are thriving right now have a very clear, single-minded proposition. It’s important to understand what you are known for and how can you supercharge this to drive further growth. 

You need to establish your why  

Why do we as a business exist? To make money and sell things, sure. But beyond that? You need to ask why on a product level – why does my product exist? Ask why on a customer level – why do they want to come to us? And finally, why would people want to work for the business?

It’s key to bring your customers on the journey with you and improve the customer experience. This can be achieved through agility and adopting a newsroom mentality – so you’re able to respond to culture and trends around you. 

Building brand equity in 2019 and beyond

Listen to your customers. Put them at the heart of your business, be open, and don’t be afraid of negative feedback. 

At Clarity, we recently asked a nationally-representative audience of UK consumers a number of questions about the future of retail. Our research shows that 40% of consumers are put off from visiting a physical retail location because they are too busy, while 29% are put off due to the time it takes to travel there. 

It’s important to make it easy for customers to give their feedback. This will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, what to avoid, as well as establish opportunities for growth. Taking this on board, no matter what stage your business is at, is vital. Then, it’s what you do with the information that really matters.  

Today, customers have never been more demanding. With high expectations, customers now have increasing control over how (and when) they engage with brands. As a response, we must think differently about how we gather, collate and analyse customer insights.

Mobile is a high priority interface (one could argue THE interface), regulation (especially around 3rd party collected data) is creating additional uncertainty and customers therefore expect more from every interaction.  Brands can be shaped by social media, and advocacy can be won or lost with each engagement. Nowadays customers expect personalised promotions and offers from brands, and often influenced by social posts from a friend. Clearly, customers are looking for more tailored communications and content from brands.  

If you want to build brand equity and drive healthy growth, put people at the heart of your organisation and create valuable, personalised experiences. 

 The difference between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’ in retail 

Kim Winser, founder and chief executive of Winser London, says, “To stay ahead, retailers must have guts, take risks, let people breathe and make decisions, think creatively – if you don’t, other brands will – and, above all else,  put the customer first. Otherwise, you’re dead.”

Currently, we’re seeing many independent retailers thrive.  Because retail is so disrupted and the pace of change so fast, independent stores are constantly reinventing themselves. This independence means they have the agility and fleet of foot to accomplish this.

With footfall on the high street decreasing, customers are turning to new marketplaces to fulfil their shopping needs. Without a powerful and relevant digital proposition, your ability to thrive and grow as a retailer is constrained.  Marketplaces can be the answer to many retailers in this regard. But never forget your customer in your decision on this – make sure there is a marriage between the marketplace customer base and your target customer.  

New tech innovations such as AI, AR and VR have been held up as industry changing.  Those retailers who have now established how they can enhance the customer experience through these technologies, must now work out how to embed them into their organisations. Building a culture of innovation with a workforce, who are ready and eager to embrace change, is critical and will make the difference between success and failure, and surviving and thriving.

H&M’s digital revolution is a great example of how a business can make a compelling turnaround. With net sales growth of 10% in Q1 2019, H&M has transformed its business and is driving online expansion globally. Its new online platform improves the shopping experience for customers, while the digitisation of its physical stores offers an enhanced customer experience. 

H&M also ensures next day delivery in 11 markets, with same day delivery set to launch in 2019.  It is even expanding radio-frequency identification (RFID), so items with a digital price tag can be located quickly and offer precise information regarding availability. This retailer has truly put the customer at the heart of its business, offering convenience, ease of shop and superior customer experiences.

Four-step navigation process

 At Clarity, we created a four-step process to help retailers navigate unchartered waters. To drive innovation and ensure bricks and mortar stores are delivering real value, these companies need to explore: 

  • Trend watching – what are the trends affecting your sector? The pace of technology and customer behaviour change and what that means for your marketing.  How will these converge and play out?
  • Market Clarity – What does this mean for your (new) competitive set? How are they performing and responding to the macro trends driving change in the sector?
  • Disruption index – What does this mean for your business, how do you position your brand, differentiate and communicate for success? 
  • A Clear Path – Building an actionable plan for success from a brand, marketing and communications perspective. 

The truth is prosaic: today, customers are offered seemingly endless choices.  With a growing number of decisions to make, the job of a retailer is to stand out from its competitors. This can be achieved by taking a customer-centric approach, showcasing its value and navigating market change. 

By ignoring this need, retailers risk falling by the wayside and damaging brand loyalty. It’s time for brands to be proactive. This means evolving, growing and adapting to a constantly changing world. 

Henrietta Cheung, business development director, at Clarity 

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