The relaxation of restrictions on June 21 – or as it has become known in the media, ‘Freedom Day’ – was meant to be a return to normality. For brick and mortar retailers especially, this represented a chance for them to increase sales and recoup losses endured during lockdown. However, such hopes may have been short-lived as research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has shown that stores are continuing to struggle as footfall fails to reach pre-pandemic levels.
While physical retailers might dismiss the BRC research for being too premature, it is clear that shoppers’ habits have changed fundamentally since the pandemic. In other words, consumers no longer view brick and mortar stores as their first port of call for the latest must-haves. Instead, research shows that people are increasingly looking online to shop. 17.2 million British consumers – about 25 percent of the population – plan to permanently switch to e-commerce.
The transition from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce has already been devastating for unprepared retailers. Over the course of the pandemic, Debenhams, Bonmarché and Arcadia Group have fallen into administration and retailers across the board have closed stores as one in seven shops lie vacant on UK high streets.
With the transition to online shopping continuing to accelerate post lockdown, retailers are still having to move quickly to adapt to new trends. In short, brick-and-mortar stores need to go online and use omnichannel and experiential marketing in order to convince consumers to leave their homes and to shop in-store.
The importance of omnichannel marketing
Omnichannel retail strategies are a multichannel approach to sales that focus on providing a seamless customer experience whether the person is shopping online from a mobile device, a laptop or in a brick-and-mortar store. With research from Harvard Business Review finding that 76% of customers use multiple channels during their purchase journey, it is clear that brick and mortar stores can use an omnichannel approach to drive growth post lockdown.
For example, a retailer can use local inventory ads on platforms like Google to entice customers to nearby stores to check out products they had previously shown interest in online. They can also ensure that search campaigns are optimised for high intent search terms around specific products (for example, Levi’s size 32 boot cut) in order to capitalise on people price checking products after they browse in-store.
Focus on Google Shopping
While retailers don’t have the resources to outcompete Amazon over convenience, they can drive sales by using platforms like Google Shopping to catch people when they’re actively looking for products. Google Shopping is crucial to the success of any retailer’s e-commerce strategy. It allows customers to find, compare and buy products across different merchants who have paid to advertise on the service. The platform is also a valuable tool for building loyalty. Consumers are funneled to a retailer’s own website to make a purchase, giving the retailer access to valuable data insights, rather than losing this to walled gardens like Amazon and eBay.
However, creating cut through on Google Shopping is easier said than done. Competition online has increased during the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns, making it harder to be visible and to make e-commerce sales profitable. If marketers don’t optimise campaigns on the platform effectively, then they will find that they are wasting time, ad spend and vital sales to competitors.
The key to achieving solid cut-through is capturing and analysing granular data from campaigns. Retailers need to understand how their products are performancing financially and statistically on the site. However, due to the constantly changing nature of Google Shopping, it’s incredibly difficult to track every product in a retailer’s catalogue. Therefore, retailers with large catalogues need to partner with specialists to effectively manage their ads. Google Shopping specialists such as us at Bidnamic help retailers by tracking the performance of products through a mixture of machine learning and human insight.
Google Shopping doesn’t just have an impact on e-commerce. Granular performance data from the platform can also be used to inform other channels and campaigns. For example, access to search term data can provide retailers with in depth insights into the demand of products. While sales data already gives brands a view into popularity, analysing impression share and clicks informs retailers of growing demand for products outside of their usual seasonality.
While brick and mortar retailers might hope for a return to pre-pandemic shopping habits, it is increasingly clear that COVID-19 has changed retail habits forever. Going forwards, retailers are going to have to either adapt or survive. In other words, they are going to have to embrace increasingly important aspects of marketing and sales like omnichannel and Google Shopping. The alternative is to join Debenhams, Arcadia Group and other lockdown retailer casualties.
Liam Patterson is CEO and founder at Bidnamic