Never has the High Street been more competitive, never has it been so dynamic and demanding and most importantly, never have we as consumers been more demanding of retailers. Can retailers afford to continue to innovate, deliver great product and at rock bottom prices whilst at the same time deliver a truly memorable customer experience? And if the last is true, what one ingredient will facilitate this?
Austerity has had many varying impacts on both the economy and our spending habits, none more so than on the High Street where it has changed behaviour for good. Loyalty, if it ever existed, certainly doesn’t today – except at point of each purchase - and so as we become ever more promiscuous in our shopping behaviour so too must retailers strive ever increasingly to convince us to part with our hard earned income. It is this mixture of intense competitiveness, highly dynamic and ever changing landscape combined with not only a lack of any loyalty but acute consumer expectation which is creating a maelstrom for retailers, the like of which has never been witnessed before.
So how can a retailer hope to differentiate themselves and create a compelling offer for the consumer? We now take cheap, inexpensive grocery, electrical and fashion items for granted. We expect that they will be available when and where we want them; delivered to our place of choice without trouble or fuss. In short, we expect ease and convenience – much of which is of course online and many column inches are devoted to online, omni-channel, multi-channel – call it what you will. However, the fascination now is not online but the role which the bricks and mortar store estate plays in all of this. How a retailer differentiates through their physical presence will in the next few years, come to define the success of their online offering.
Imagine a world which was 100% online? No shops except for showrooms in which to view the product before buying. It simply couldn’t exist; shopping is intrinsically a social and experiential activity and this will never change. In addition it is sensory and retailers know this – especially fashion retailers where, if you’ve ever noticed, all our senses are engaged in the buying process.
But all this is to ignore the one key factor which will redefine the retail industry in the coming years – its staff.
Traditionally, retail has not been viewed as a great career option in the same way as, for instance, banking. With the perfect storm of fierce competition, the need for great in-store customer experience, together with the necessity to drive for better efficiency and productivity, no longer will store staff be seen as a necessary cost. They will become the front line leading the brand, able to create a memorable and great experience unlike no other. Retail will undergo a major transformation in the way that it promotes itself to young people, offering career paths like never before, showing that whether it be in retail operations, supply chain, buying, merchandising, there awaits a great career path in retail far beyond the popular zero hours filler jobs whilst waiting for something better to come along.
For all those having received their A level results and considering their University options, retail should be high on the list.