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Consumer CX High Streets Podcast Retail leadership Retail trends Store of the future

The Retail Leader’s Roadmap with Brian Librach

Brian Librach, former VP of Stores at Urban Outfitters, Pacific Sunwear and Old Navy, joins Natalie to discuss his new book: The Retail Leader’s Roadmap. They explore:

  • Why retail leaders get stuck and how to rewrite your career outcome.
  • The evolution of bricks & mortar retail – what is the future of stores and how should we be measuring success?
  • Which brands does Brian admire and what are they getting right?
  • How can retailers ensure their staff are motivated and engaged?
  • Cultural shifts: digital transformation journeys and the importance of taking your people with you.
  • Upskilling and investing in digital competencies.
  • Squiggly careers: why the path to success isn’t always linear.
  • Natalie and Brian debate the key traits of winning retailers. 

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CX E-commerce Technology Unified Commerce

How Do You Actually Achieve Unified Commerce?

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates


What do you call a retailer with a relentless drive to enhance the customer experience? This may sound like the start of a geeky retail joke but it’s a serious question. We used to brand these more nimble businesses as “disruptors”. They were the ones ripping up the rulebook, defying the status quo and continuously elevating the shopper experience.

Today, I’d argue that all retailers need to adopt a mentality of perpetual disruption. In the fast-moving world of retail, today’s innovations quickly become tomorrow’s norms. You’ve got to keep evolving and experimenting. Failing fast has become a prerequisite. 

This was evidenced in a new study from Manhattan Associates. The inaugural Unified Commerce Benchmark for Specialty Retail in Europe assessed 50 retailers across three verticals (apparel and footwear, home and DIY, luxury) in five European markets (France, Germany, Italy, UK, the Netherlands).

Retailers were categorised as Leaders, Challengers, Followers and Laggards. The study then revealed common attributes of successful retailers across four categories: Search and Discovery; Cart and Checkout; Promising and Fulfilment; Service and Support. So what have we learned?

Firstly, the study called out four participating retailers as true leaders in Unified Commerce: Adidas, H&M, Leroy Merlin and M&S. These businesses aren’t just ticking boxes by offering capabilities such as real-time inventory statistics and product recommendation tools; they are actively embracing technologies that enable them to deliver more nuanced, and increasingly personalised, customer experiences.

And it’s paying off. The study found that Unified Commerce leaders’ revenue growth outperforms non-leaders by at least twofold.

Guided Inspiration, Rich Findability and Immersive StoryTelling

Leaders in ‘Search and Discovery’ help shoppers discover meaningful products, whether they are looking to fulfil an immediate need or are looking for inspiration. Most leaders in this space already bundle product offerings (offer suggestions to ‘buy the look’ or ‘buy the set’), and I imagine this will become the norm in the very near future as more retailers embrace the power of AI.

There is always room for improvement and Manhattan specifically calls out capabilities like offering real-time visibility on product description pages (PDP), inventory status callouts for low/out-of-stock items, and personalised recommendations on home page. Retailers should also strive for greater visibility of delivery times, for example by allowing shoppers to filter by fulfilment method.

Most leaders offer back-in-stock notifications and 100% of them provide product sourcing information and detailed content on sustainability practices. This is an important point – retailers must go beyond product features and really immerse the shopper in the brand’s ethos. Transparency is going to be key going forward. 

Unified Basket, Payment Flexibility, Frictionless Checkout

The biggest point of friction in today’s retail customer experience is due to the loss of context when transiting between the physical and the digital. Those retailers leading the way in ‘Cart and Checkout’ understand that a unified cart or basket is a foundational capability when it comes to that all-important connection across channels: 40% of leaders show personalised promotions and offers on PDPs and cart, compared to 6% of non-leaders. Most leaders also allow shoppers to view promo codes in cart and check product availability status by store in cart.

Given the proliferation of payment options today, most leaders also offer checkout with buy now, pay later (100%), Apple Pay or PayPal (70%), as well as the ability to use mixed payment methods for the same order (40%).

In-store and online cart abandonment is still far too regular of an occurrence in retail. In fact, more than one-third (35%) of shoppers said that they abandon their shopping cart because of lengthy checkout process and a whopping 37% said they will not retry if asked to re-enter payment or delivery details. It’s essential that retailers provide seamless checkout experiences that reduce unnecessary friction at the point of conversion.

Flawless Fulfilment

I’ve often said that the post-purchase experience tends to be more of an afterthought than a strategic priority. Well, that is finally changing as retailers recognise that a shopper’s product pick-up or delivery experience must be as seamless as their shopping journey. Not only do leaders in ‘Promising and Fulfilment’ make sure retailers meet or beat their delivery promises consistently, they do also so while being more environmentally friendly too.

Offering shoppers greater post-order flexibility, including complete or partial cancellations, and greater delivery/pick-up options are all areas leaders excel in. Sixty percent of leaders offer shoppers the ability to cancel orders post-purchase compared to 28% of non-leaders.

And shoppers are crying out for this: more than two-thirds of shoppers want a self-service option to be able to edit order after placing them. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters (73%) of shoppers value expedited deliver (same business day) but are only willing to pay less than €5 for the service.

Manhattan calls out the ability to highlight the carbon footprint / impact of fulfilment choice as an area for improvement. Shoppers are hyper-informed when it comes to pricing and product information, but too often they are fumbling in the dark when it comes to sustainability. I believe this will change considerably over the next decade and retailers must prioritise transparency to drive greener purchasing decisions.

360 Degree Service

Leaders in the ‘Service and Support’ segment offer shoppers a wide variety of service options from call centres to in-store assistance, social media support and live agents available via their website and mobile app. What is most important, however, isn’t the breadth of support options but the fact that they offer seamless continuity, consistent quality and always-on availability.

Leaders empower shoppers to self-serve most of their needs. Nearly all (92%) offer support on order modifications, returns and exchanges via chat/call and 75% offer their customers the ability to return purchases to drop-off locations.

In addition to problem solving, leaders also offer value-added services such as customisations, style/fit guidance and in-store hospitality to turn service interactions into a secret sauce of brand stickiness. Most leaders empower their store associates to check a shopper’s online purchase history while in-store (75% compared to 48% of non-leaders). They should also be striving for in-store appointment scheduling via their digital channels, product personalisation and allowing store associates to create or manage a shopper’s wishlist.

As I have said on numerous occasions, we are witnessing a democratisation of white-glove service within the retail industry. Don’t get left behind.

Download the full report.

Categories
Consumer E-commerce Retail trends Technology

2023 Predictions: A UK Retail Rollercoaster

‘Permacrisis’ was declared the word of 2022, so what might 2023 bring?

There are reasons for cautious optimism, but first retailers are going to have to buckle up and brace themselves for more turbulence.

Spending more to buy less

Let’s briefly recap on retail’s Golden Quarter. Christmas was not the wipe-out that many of us had expected. After a bumpy couple of years with Covid cancelling Christmas, consumers were determined not to let illness, inflationary pressures or industrial action hamper their celebrations.

There are some caveats here: soft comparatives (remember Omicron?); supermarket success came at the expense of the hospitality sector; and perhaps most importantly much of the growth we saw was fuelled by inflation – in December retail sales were up in value terms but volumes continued to fall. In other words, consumers are spending more to buy less.

Inflation might be starting to ease, but consumers are still a long way from feeling the benefit. This ongoing erosion of spending power makes for a pretty gloomy outlook: consumer confidence tanked again in January, returning to a near 50-year low. Looking ahead, the deterioration in consumer sentiment is likely to persist throughout the first half of the year, at least. A reminder to retailers that value will remain firmly top of mind, purchases will continue to be incredibly considered, and big-ticket discretionary buys will be delayed.

Trimming the fat

The spending hangover is here and while there’s never a good time for subdued consumer demand, it’s especially painful when retailers are simultaneously grappling with their own cost inflation. No one is immune: this dangerous combination of soft demand and rising costs is impacting even the most bulletproof retailers. Amazon, for example, is laying off 6% of its global workforce, closing warehouses and putting the brakes on bricks & mortar expansion. 2023 will be a year of operational efficiencies for retailers, in many ways mirroring their own customers’ behaviour by trying to do more with less.

The other immediate challenge for retailers will be shifting excess stock, the result of over-ordering during the supply chain crisis and exacerbated by the current consumer weakness. With a glut of inventory and sluggish demand, retailers are left with little choice but to slash prices. But wait, haven’t they been doing that for the past four months? Aside from the obvious margin implications here, there is also the risk that shoppers are becoming desensitised as promotion fatigue sets in – or even worse, that they forget what it’s like to buy at full price.   

2023 opportunities: bricks & mortar resurgence and immersive digital experiences

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2023 is going to be another year of instability and uncertainty. But the retail industry is nothing if not resilient and I believe there are reasons to be optimistic. Stores are back, they’re repurposed and better than ever. We’ve been thrust into the future thanks to the pandemic-induced digitization of bricks & mortar retail, levelling the playing field and shifting the industry’s perception. Stores were once considered liabilities in this digital era, but they’ve been reconfigured for 21st century shopping and are now essential assets.

When it comes to customer experience, I believe that ‘tech-enabled human touch’ will be the next battleground, as retailers recognise the many opportunities that come with equipping your staff with the right digital tools. Mediocre experiences have become a thing of the past. Meanwhile, automation will climb higher up the agenda as retailers look to achieve operational efficiencies, despite the initial outlay, while simultaneously addressing the current labour shortage. In 2023, we’ll see more trials of autonomous vehicles delivering our goods and robots working alongside humans in warehouses.

Shoppers will continue to abandon e-commerce in droves now that we have returned to some semblance of normality. Some categories like food, fashion and furniture will never transition online like the rest of retail has, but it’s clear that as an industry we have been propelled towards a more digital world. And over the next decade, new, immersive digital experiences will redefine our perception of e-commerce – this is going to be the next big thing in retail. I’m still a bit of a metaverse sceptic. I know barriers can be knocked down but right now how many of us really have a VR headset kicking around at home? However, it’s clear that e-commerce is ready to evolve. Sure, all of the friction has been sucked out and today the experience is wildly accessible, slick, effortless. But is it any fun? Not really. It’s still far too transactional, too one-dimensional. This will change.

The next stage of e-commerce is all about immersion, discovery, curation, hyper-personalisation and escapism. And it’s already happening with augmented reality, virtual showrooms, live shopping, social commerce, 3D product views/virtual try-ons, video shopping consultations, among others. In the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins.

Our hybrid way of living is here to stay and while businesses may still be acclimatising to the consequent shifts in demand patterns, longer term this will present new and exciting customer engagement opportunities. Despite tight budgets, investment in sustainability will remain high on the agenda in 2023, while opportunities to tackle the often-neglected post-purchase experience and explore new revenue streams such as retail media and third-party marketplaces will accelerate. In summary, short-term volatility will persist while consumers batten down the hatches, but as always the future of retail is bright for those who are willing to evolve.

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Technology

Turn Physical Stores Into Digital Assets, Says SES-imagotag

Paid partnership with SES-imagotag


Where next for bricks & mortar retail? Is hyper-personalisation about to go mainstream and what are the opportunities for retailers? I discuss all of this and more with Thierry Gadou, Chairman & CEO of SES-imagotag, a company that invents IoT and digital technologies that create a positive impact on society by enabling sustainable and human-centered commerce.

After surviving a pandemic and digital disruption more broadly, have physical stores finally proven their worth?

To be frank, the past two years haven’t been so negative for many omnichannel physical retailers. Many are actually better off than before COVID, despite the twin pressures of adapting to the consumer shift to digital and a challenging economic backdrop. Stores are back. The most successful retailers have recognised that their physical stores can be high value digital assets. Stores have proven that they are essential and at the very core of omnichannel commerce – but they need to be better stores. There is still a lot of work to do when it comes to transforming the physical space.

Let’s explore that transformation in more detail. How can retailers adapt their business models to stay relevant in this digital era?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge that there will be a divergence between the pioneers and the laggards. The winners are going to be those who make their physical stores an incredible experience by offering advice and levels of service that e-commerce companies cannot provide, while simultaneously repurposing their stores to become fulfilment and collection hubs.

Online retailers have historically had a huge data advantage but there is now an opportunity to leverage in-store data to optimise the customer experience. Take grocery, for example. E-commerce might be just 5-10% of a supermarket’s sales. Imagine all of the rich insights you could get if you actually transform your stores, where the bulk of sales actually take place, in a way that makes capturing that data possible in the first instance?

Right now, the only way retailers make money is to sell products. They are missing a clear opportunity to capitalise on shopper traffic. In-store retail media is a major opportunity. By digitising the shelf edge, retailers are able to provide very efficient advertising real estate to brands and create new sources of revenue which, in turn, can fund further store transformation. None of this is easy but the time has come. There is more opportunity today to implement such a vision than there has ever been.

Thierry Gadou, Chairman & CEO of SES-imagotag

So how can retailers leverage in-store data and what are the benefits?

Physical retailers have a good understanding of the products that have sold, but what about the ones that didn’t? We are helping retailers to produce more data in-store by monitoring the shelves, automating the detection of stockouts and enabling mobile interactions. In the cookie-less world that we are entering, first party data is going to be the rule of the game.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, the in-store operational data – this is what happens at the shelf. So, it’s stockouts, facings, planogram compliance. Brands today are still sending tens of thousands of people into the field to manually check for themselves. We’ve seen enormous improvements to the supply chain over the past 20 years, but the reality is that the level of stockouts has remained unchanged. And that’s down to the inaccuracy of inventory data in stores. Retailers are sitting on an absolute goldmine, but they need to go after it. How do you get the data right? Through sensors and computer vision.

And this is a win-win-win opportunity. It provides an additional source of revenue for retailers, a huge cost savings for brands and a superior experience for customers in the form of fresher products and better availability.

The second aspect here is customer data. With digitised shelf edges, you are able to communicate with customers at the very strategic moment of purchase. You can reach them with very targeted, relevant messaging which can be further personalised by their mobiles.

We have scaled this and we know it works. Brands are seeing better CPMs (Cost per Mille) and higher conversion rates in stores. All of this is within reach today.

Let’s talk more about hyper-personalisation. Will we see a shift towards more tailored, real-time promotions in the future?

One of the great aspects of the physical store experience is discovery. In five minutes in a store, you can discover so many more products than you would if you were scrolling on your phone. So, that’s great but the range can also be overwhelming and hard to navigate.

We have worked with Monoprix, for example, to digitise the shelf edge and enable a highly tailored in-store experience. The customer can set their criteria, for example cheapest, organic-only or items with a low carbon footprint. The app will direct the customer to the aisle and, once there, he/she just presses a button on their smartphone and the products that correspond to the previously set criteria will flash in the aisle.

Another example is when you get closer to a product that you’re interested in, you’ll receive a tailored message to scan the QR code with your phone and perhaps receive a special promotion that is exclusively for you. So, when we talk about the shift towards personalised pricing, that’s going to be very mobile-centric. The use of mobile and NFC (Near Field Communication) or QR codes is going to get you that level of personalisation, even in a mass market setting.

These services encourage the customer to use their smartphone in the store and the magic is then that the customer is providing retailers and brands with valuable first party data, further fuelling the retail media opportunity.

As the boundaries between online and offline continue to blur, perhaps we need to stop referring to stores as “physical retail”?

Physical commerce is the wrong word; it’s human commerce. Shoppers today want convenience and tolerance to any form of friction is history, but shopping is still a social experience. It’s a five senses experience. It’s so much more than just the product on shelf. The problem is that stores today don’t often provide that experience. Automation, AI and data can make the store much easier to operate, which frees up staff time to be more available to customers and have those meaningful engagements. It’s all about the technology behind the scenes that enables this 21st century experience.

Categories
Store of the future Technology

The case for seamless, not soulless, experiences

In the second of a three-part whitepaper series from Red Ant and NBK Retail, we explore the rise of the experiential store, why retailers must adopt an ‘admission fee’ mentality, and how customer experience is fast becoming the new currency in retail.

Despite the high-profile casualties we’ve seen on the high street, it’s clear that shoppers still crave the experience of visiting stores. But the service they receive in store must surpass what they would find online. We’re currently in a moment of transition, where the physical store is shifting from transactional to experiential.

Kill the friction, not the experience

Today, there’s still a sense of novelty when shoppers encounter a frictionless store experience, but in the future, digitally enabled store experiences will become the norm.

The option to bypass the checkout, for example, will simply become an expectation. This will be ‘basic hygiene’ that retailers must follow to remain relevant to their customers.

While it’s essential to invest in the right technology to facilitate a seamless in-store experience, retailers must also ensure ‘seamless’ doesn’t translate as ‘soulless’.

Retailers are experimenting with a plethora of technologies to enhance their environments and to finally bring the physical store into the 21st century. However, they must guarantee that it’s friction that they’re killing, and not the experience.

Democratising the white glove service

Just as the role of the store must evolve, so must the role of the store associate. They must be able to demonstrate genuine expertise, offering advice and personal recommendations to become a ‘trusted shopping companion’.

“29% of consumers said they would spend more money if a sales associate recommended something to complement their purchase”

In the future, what was once considered a VIP service will be democratised as more mainstream retailers recognise the benefits of providing concierge-level service.

John Lewis has already begun sending staff to theatrical training to improve customer experience, and the department store chain is also giving employees a voice by allowing them to directly engage on social media.

Retailers must aim to provide that white glove service because customer-led clienteling pays. Being able to provide a one-to-one, face-to-face personalised service has the power to increase sales and drive loyalty.

In our own OnePoll survey, 27% of consumers said that having an expert to talk to would make going into a shop worth their while.

And 29% of respondents agreed that they would spend more money if a sales associate recommended something to complement their purchase (based on what they had previously bought or had on their wish list).

The value of human interaction

At the end of the day, the most important rule in retail is being relevant to your customers.

Technology can help retailers augment the human touch, allowing them to adapt and thrive in the digital world. Today’s consumers may be hyper-informed and accustomed to shopping on their terms, but they still value human interaction – particularly when it comes to advice and inspiration.

“Employees are retailers’ most valuable resource”

With so much change afoot, it may be overwhelming for retailers to know where exactly to begin but they should start with their most valuable resource – their employees.

Retailers can democratise the VIP experience by equipping staff with the technology they need to offer specialist, personalised advice and information.

Consumers are no longer tolerant of mediocre service, so retailers must raise their game if they want to differentiate from online rivals and survive in this digital era. Clienteling and consultancy should not be beyond the reach of any retailer that wants to build an experience.

Download Store of the Future: The Experiential Store now to get the full picture.

Categories
Technology

Retail Week Tech Race – My Experience as a Chip & Pinner

This week I’ve taken part in the Retail Week Tech Race. Using only chip and pin, I had to spend as little as possible on: a home assistant, Asos branded clothing, 500 penny sweets, original Nintendo Game Boy, personalised item, £5 scratch card and a build your own robot arm.

The aim of the race was to demonstrate the importance of payments as a frictionless part of the customer experience.

My opponents:

  • Team Cash – George MacDonald, Executive Editor, Retail Week
  • Team Contactless – Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO, Retail Reflections
  • Team Crypto – Peter McCormack, Cryptocurrency Trader, Miner, Blogger and Advisor, What Bitcoin Did
  • Team Mobile – Rachel Arthur, Chief Intelligence Officer at The Current Daily

Team Chip and Pin: Key takeaways

1) Shopping habits have evolved, payments not so much.

My initial reaction to being assigned chip and pin? NO. ONLINE. SHOPPING.

That alone was going to be a challenge for me. And that’s not because I don’t shop in stores, but when faced with a long list of disparate items – some of which are near impossible to find in a bricks & mortar shop – my first instinct is to get online.

Having to physically trek around individual stores (in 32 degree heat no less) in the hope of some very specific items being in stock was a stark reminder of just how spoiled for choice we are today. We have access to millions of products right at our fingertips – and they turn up on our doorsteps the same or next day!

Even if I attempted to use click & collect, I would have had to pay for the item online which ruled out using chip and pin. Argos was an exception here, so reserve and collect (ie. pay at the store) came in handy. I even resorted to calling a few stores to see if items were in stock – very 2003!

2) With low-value items, cash is still king.

Bearing in mind that the goal was not only to source all items on the list but to do it as cheaply as possible, I ran into some issues when trying to purchase low-value items like the £5 scratch card and personalised item. Retailers would charge an additional (50p) fee or simply wouldn’t accept card payment. It was a reminder that, in some instances, cash is still king.

3) Less choice on the high street further limited my options with chip and pin.

This year’s high-profile collapses of Maplin and Toys R Us made it more difficult to source some of the more peculiar items on the list – ie. build your own robot arm. The superstores I visited also, unsurprisingly, had a much-reduced electronics section as this category has largely shifted online.

In the end, I managed to purchase 5 out of 7 items on the list using chip and pin – all but the Asos-branded item of clothing and original Nintendo Game Boy. It was only at the very end that I had a lightbulb moment – I could have saved myself a ton of time and energy by using Amazon Top Up!

Main takeaway of the race? Consumers demand to be able to shop on their own terms and they expect that experience to be completely and utterly seamless. But when it comes to payments, there’s still a whole lot of friction.

You can hear all about the #RWTechRace in our session at the Retail Week Tech conference, 12-13 September, and for video updates of the race check out the NBK Retail YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1P4TLdtOcU