While many retailers are struggling, there are those that are thriving during the biggest period of change in most of our lifetimes. Apple’s Steve Jobs said that “innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity and not as a threat”, so what lessons can we learn from retailers that are innovating and thriving?
As brick and mortar retailing ground to a halt for many, digital became a lifeline. It’s a good start to have a transactional shopping website but it’s not enough to thrive in most markets. You need to provide a smooth digital customer experience – the site must be simple to use, easy to pay, and provide relevant order progress updates. It needs to go further and bring your brand experience to life so customers can see the same values and priorities are at play in both your physical and digital worlds. Then, layer on an integrated social media approach to bind everything together and keep a close connection with your customers that drives sales. All aspects have to be integrated and telling the same story, so separate teams working in silos can’t deliver the business punch that a well-rounded experience and communication plan provides.
Strong brands with a clear proposition are showing us how to do it, for example, sports retailers including Nike, Adidas, and Foot Locker. With engaging website content that goes beyond the products, stores where there is always something new to see, and integrated social media messaging, they are a great model for any business to learn from.
Amazon has extended its lead in retail during the pandemic by being exactly what customers needed when going to the mall was not an option. Amazon is easy to use, offers a wide product range, and gets your purchases to you quickly. With Prime, they go beyond simple retail models and create multiple connection points with customers’ lives. There’s probably only room for one Amazon in the market, yet you can take the lessons from their success and translate them for your own brand. How do you build a tribe of loyalists? How can the customer journey and delivery be made simple and on-brand?
2. What’s your story?
Having a clear proposition and strong customer offer has never mattered more. Clarity on what you stand for makes it easier to have a consistent story across all your customer touchpoints. And don’t forget that it’s always been important to offer customers the right products and services to drive sales. The enduring demand for Apple’s must-have products made their stores a retail destination, with queues outside the door as soon as they were able to open. Are your products compelling enough for customers to make a journey to shop for them?
3. Meet customers where they want to be
In the UK, successful brick and mortar retailers enduring falling footfall have partnered with third party food distributors, like Uber Eats and Deliveroo, to give them a new and easy route to customers. In the US, Target-owned Shipt gives members same-day delivery from a range of local retailers via their app. For the retailers, it’s a clever approach that gives them a new fulfillment route with almost zero effort to set up.
Disney has been innovative in how they reach customers. The timely launch of their Disney+ streaming service has given them a new route for film releases like Mulan, as well as a captive audience of people based at home looking for new content. In early August Disney CEO Bob Chapek reported that Disney+ had over 60.5 million global subscribers; an impressive number given that they launched less than 12 months ago. You don’t have to go as big as Disney, however. My local bakery set up online ordering within a week and started a fresh-baked bread home delivery service with a trailer attached to a bike. They used social media to encourage regular customers to support them by ordering online and provided easy links to start ordering.
What innovative route to customers could be right for your customers and brand?
4. Keep trading
One of the biggest lessons comes from retailers who were able to keep trading because their food offer meant they were able to sell the rest of their ranges too, for example, Target in the US and B&M in the UK. Being labeled an “essential retailer” in the UK meant keeping your stores open and brick and mortar sales coming in. These stores saw an online surge and kept some physical sales too, meaning they had a stronger sales base to help them weather the storm. If the government orders you to close, you have little choice yet if you can find ways to keep trading and stay part of your customers’ lives it is much easier to bounce back. If you shut up shop for even a short while you can quickly lose relevance for your customers, a hard lesson many apparel retailers are struggling with now.
5. Review your efficiency
Retailers who have thrived have been flexible and responsive to change. As the routines of daily life have been turned upside down, new customer shopping patterns have made previous ways of working and colleague rotas outdated. You need to review your operation and make it efficient for the new realities of trading. The best operators use workload models and workforce management systems to calculate the resources they need now and alter shift plans to fit the changed demand. Don’t stick with the way you used to do things, or you’ll spend too much salary budget when it’s quiet and not have enough colleagues available in the busier spells. If you haven’t got a workload model that calculates the hours you need, get one as soon as you can as it will help manage your all-important cash flow. If you wait until things get back to “normal” to put robust workload planning in place, you could be waiting a long time and mismanage your salary investment in the meantime.
In a world of constant change, thriving retailers make constant readjustments and it does feel uncomfortable. The fittest thrive, so make sure your operational core is working well and flexible enough to cope with the demands that variable business levels will throw at it.
Article by Simon Hedaux, founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world-leading productivity partner that helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity, and optimize budgets. For more information see https://rethinkproductivity.co.uk/