Striking a balance: how to future-proof retail
In recent years the UK has become a digital nation. We’re spending more time in touch with our smartphones, tablets, wearables and laptops than ever before. Whether it be for banking, booking a holiday or catching up with friends, digital alternatives now exist for a plethora of everyday activities – even getting a good night’s sleep.
For the retail space, this means the evolutions of a more connected consumer – one which expects a seamless, multichannel digital experience. With each new development, expectations are set higher, and with 24-hour availability and access to customer services across different channels becoming commonplace, retailers are now under pressure to keep up with consumer demands.
A merging of worlds
Previously there was a distinct difference between the services that retailers would provide in-store and online, however as the retail landscape has evolved this is no longer the case.
There is a clear demand from consumers for a more integrated digital and face-to-face experience.
According to our research into the UK’s digital landscape, one in four consumers will always choose a digital option when it comes to retail. Online shopping and click and collect, meanwhile, were the second and third most used digital services respectively.
Despite this, the research also made it clear that the provision of face-to-face services is still a must, with more than a fifth of consumers naming it as their first choice of communication.
Click and collect is one example of how retailers have used digital services to marry the traditional bricks and mortar of retail with e- and m-commerce, reviving the high street as a result.
Even e-commerce giant Amazon has recognised the endurance of physical stores, highlighting the importance of the high street. Clearly the company sees value in blending digital and face-to-face services to remain competitive, even if they are primarily an e-commerce retailer.
However, retailers still need to be mindful of which digital services will enhance their business and customer experience.
This is a case of aligning digital strategy with overarching business strategy, rather than focusing on digital facets which serve an aesthetic purpose but provide no tangible business value.
While elements such as screens in-store may appear to be digital, retailers must consistently question whether this enhances a customer’s experience or increases revenue.
Rather than simply focusing on the customer-facing services, retailers will also need to invest in back-end infrastructure if they’re to integrate genuinely valuable digital elements to their business. Broken links in back-end systems, for example, will result in poor customer experiences. These experiences in turn will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on the overall success of any digital programme.
Synchronising the back-end with online systems allows retailers to track and monitor stock levels across stores and online, as well as follow deliveries in real-time. It’s this type of integration that will give retailers the most value and return on investment, enabling them to have one view of both stock and customer – ultimately allowing them to provide the best service possible.
A digital first nation’s retailers still put customers first
To keep up with these new connected consumers demands, retailers need to match their services across the board in both digital and bricks and mortar environments.
If they wish to compete and remain ahead of the curve, they need to ensure that digital channels enhance a customer’s experience so as to future-proof their business in an increasingly digital nation.