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It’s time to focus on the ‘here and now’ issues facing retail businesses

By Matt Rochard, Client Director in Retail, O2.

Few would argue that these are challenging times for retail, with inflation and the cost of utilities both rising. Seasonal retail sales have delivered a mixed bag of results, with stark contrasts between the grocery and non-food retailers.

I have noticed that much of the current crop of blog posts and articles about the sector seem to focus on the future of retail. Important as it is to look ahead, I believe that there are a number of ‘here and now’ issues which, if not addressed, might leave retailers without a future to look forward to.

Increasing footfall no longer guarantees sales

The first concerns footfall, which has long been the retailer’s principal focus. In the past, the surest and quickest way to increase sales was to get more people into your store.

In 2018, however, this no longer guarantees better results. Increasingly, consumers regard malls and retail stores as showrooms, an opportunity to see what is around, to compare prices and assess an item’s quality or value. If they like what they see they may make a purchase, but it’s just as likely that they will decide to buy elsewhere or online.

The challenge for retailers is to find ever more innovative ways to convert their footfall into spending customers, and then to deliver an experience that establishes loyalty. Here are what I think are the priorities:

Creating the customer experience

Last year’s PwC Total Retail survey concluded that ‘retail talent (finally) matters’. If you’re going to convert footfall, you need people with the product knowledge, the know-how and people skills who will create the experience that will make the customer want to come back.

It’s the word ‘experience’ that is key here, and all retailers need to review constantly how this is being delivered. In 2017, John Lewis hired its first-ever ‘brand experience manager’ for its new Oxford store as part of efforts to attract more customers through the door. They also sent frontline staff to drama school with the aim of boosting their confidence when delivering the customer experience in store.

Here at O2, we are rolling out a retail programme that is changing the face of retail to show our customers there’s so much more that their mobiles can do. We see our stores as homes for cool tech, where people can pop in for a coffee, have fun, play games and read up on the latest gadgets. And we’re filling our stores with Gurus, genuinely knowledgeable, helpful experts who bring life to the latest tech and show customers and colleagues what it can do.

I’m also seeing increasing numbers of ‘frictionless’ retail stores, where the counter and till have been removed altogether, breaking down the physical barrier between salesperson and customer. It can only lead to a more consultative role for the salesperson and improve the overall customer experience as a result.

Using channels effectively

Getting the customer experience right certainly depends on the people that you recruit to deliver it. But it also requires the investment in technology that enables retailers to deliver the ‘Omnichannel’, providing the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online, by telephone or in a physical store.

As a retailer ourselves we are acutely aware of our own need to deliver the experience that our customers expect of us, and we also support many of the UK’s largest retailers with the infrastructure and hardware they need to meet their own challenges.

Can we help you? Please get in touch with me if you have any comments or would like to discuss the issues that you may be facing. You can message me via LinkedIn.

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