The future of retail?

Retail is continue to evolve, and the last couple of years have forced faster and deeper changes.

So-called ‘multi-channel’ or ‘omni-channel’ started to become properly established over the last decade, when the technology developed to be able to join newer digital channels together with established physical retail estates. Buy and collect (Argos, Tesco, John Lewis, Amazon lockers) and using the same physical estate for returns are now just things we expect.

I get grumpy when I have to return an Amazon parcel to a post office rather than drop it off at the lockers in the nearby garage, even though Amazon have made it as frictionless as possible. But that’s just me 🙂

And now we’re seeing technology continue to evolve. Look at Amazon, Tesco and Sainsbury experiment with checkout-less stores. We were promised this was just around the corner about ten years ago.

There are some clear principles that have emerged that’s helping businesses stay ahead:

  • Align with the aspiration of the customer and their changing habits – that includes payment options (instalments, Apple Pay, Klarna, etc)
  • Be committed to investing in and implementing change when customer behaviour changes – simpler returns, virtual try-ons
  • Have channels that are interdependent, not in silos – don’t let your retail employees resent having to go into the warehouses to fetch click and collect parcels for customers (sales attribution can help here)
  • Have a consistent brand view across all channels and ensure that you have a single view of the customer regardless of how they interact with you…
  • …and develop a deep understanding of who your customers are. Demographics, locations, transaction times – all critical to understanding customer preferences
  • Have real time analysis and insight so you can adapt quickly – stock levels, delivery times, etc
  • Deliver a personalised customer experience if you can – it doesn’t matter if I get the same experience as a million other people, if it feels personal to me, then that’s personalised!
  • Test, learn, optimise. And do it over and over again

There is inevitably organisational and cultural changes that are prerequisite to becoming a successful multi-channel business, but the perfect solution will evolve over time.

Customers just want to shop with the brand, regardless how a retailer might have organised internally.

Even a decade ago we were hearing that online retailers wouldn’t have their own shops. Instead they would sell their products on social media. That one didn’t quite pan out, and from a data perspective the more first party data you get (with permission), the richer customer experience you can develop. And with that the stronger the commercials.

The critical thing is the use of the data and the ability to continually evolve based on what your data is telling you. And don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, just be able to iterate quickly so when it doesn’t go to plan, you can evolve or pivot with another crucial learning.

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