Carefully consider the customer in this new age of retail

As consumers were forced online last year, bringing back a sensory experience through a carefully curated customer journey is crucial – this is where independent retail is at its best, says Daniel Todaro.

It’s been a tough few months for all retailers, but now more than ever the customer experience is the tool many must be reaching for to recapture shoppers and remind them what they have missed.

Based on findings from the CBI, retail sales have risen above seasonal norms for the first time this year. The reopening of non-essential stores in England and Wales brought relief to the sector. April’s retail sales volumes were viewed as “good” for not only the first time this year but also since June 2018, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey. The data points to a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to stores.

Retail will undoubtedly regain its mojo over the coming months and if we are out of complete restrictions this summer, it should rebound and take full opportunity. Retail evolves to meet the expectations of generations, trends and attitudes; companies must therefore work to create more experiences spread across a wider space to offer consumers an immersive experience that, ultimately, keeps the consumer coming back.

For the entire nation, lockdowns forced us to shop online whether we liked to or not. This meant that the sensory experience was immediately banished to a 2D experience with brown boxes dumped on our doorstep. Human nature is to be stimulated through touch and feel, and even for those with no real passion for shopping, I suspect they have missed some of the pleasures that physical retail offers.

In specific categories, this is enhanced more than others – such as considered purchases in MDA and CE. Sustainability is another factor many will be considering now that they have a choice and people look to decrease their impact, not increase it with unnecessary transportation and packaging of web-ordered goods.

We are gradually coming out of lockdown and consumers continue to be excited about it! Over 85 per cent of consumers from our latest retail survey results claimed that they have already taken advantage of physical shops being open. They are emerging with a determined mindset, using their new found online skills to narrow down their options before heading to the store to browse and make the final purchase.

Today’s data is critical to understanding the new trends that have emerged and forming (or re-forming) brand strategies. Insight from Kantar, online shopping fell in April for what was the second time in a row, and Springboard footfall data showed an increase of 88 per cent week-on- week for the period that non-essential retail reopened after 12 April.

So there is a chance here to reconnect with consumers while confidence is increasing as a (hopefully) high-spirited summer begins.

The online share of retail sales is decreasing, although the benchmark remains above the pre- pandemic figure, settling at about 36 per cent in April versus 23 per cent in 2020. This does mostly remain product specific, however, and nothing will ever really replace the experiences that in store shopping can offer.

The store should now become more of an experience hub as well as a purchase point. In- store marketing continues to have the power to not only increase actual sales, but also other key factors such as brand loyalty and even helping to drive social media interactions.

When it comes to CE and large appliances in particular, many consumers will always prefer to touch a product and hear about its benefits first- hand rather than reading a spec sheet online. Hearing their input, through questions and detailed conversation about reasons for purchase, can then be fed back directly to the brand, enabling them to react and stay ahead of the competition.

In this new age of retail, the smartest businesses will be the ones that can leverage the opportunity to reach consumers at every level relevant to them, and that is where effective brand experience and a carefully curated customer journey can step in to help exceed your customers’ expectations.