This week I attended the “Highlights from the ACRS World Retail Congress” where my time was well spent hearing about merging global trends and retail best practice.
This year’s theme centred on the idea of ‘Transforming retail today, tomorrow and beyond’ to survive in an age of disruption. Retail leaders – Dr. Sean Sands and Dr. Violet Lazarevic – thoughtfully took to the stage and shared their global perspective on these interruptions and trends affecting our industry. Their presentation included key findings from the Global Retail Index plus learnings from their attendance at the 2015 Congress in Rome.
Kicking off the seminar, Dr. Sean Sands, Research Director at the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS), said that given the rapid and accelerating pace of change in the sales environment, retail disruption was a key concern for global brands today.
“What’s important is that these disruptions should not be seen as a complete loss of power in communication with consumers. On the contrary, it should be seen as an opportunity for greater engagement with consumers as they make their purchase decisions,” said Dr. Sands. “Brands need to move beyond purely push-style communication and need to formally embrace word-of-mouth and maximize direct interactions.”
Given I work in the physical retail industry, Dr. Sands’ sentiment resonated well with me and reconfirms my positioning about how my own clients should be investing in their sales and marketing dollars. Since online retailers don’t have the luxury of human interaction, his notion of maximizing direct interactions supports my existing view that retailers with a physical presence can still gain competitive advantage over pure-play online retailers. That is not to say that online channels don’t have a place in the consumer purchase journey. On the contrary, they play a key role especially in the form of product research, pricing, and availability. Dr. Sands encourages all retailers to embrace an omnichannel approach therefore ensuring that they’re serving the needs of customers across every touchpoint both online and offline.
Dr. Violet Lazarevic added to the purchasing journey conversation by touching on the notion of customer-centricity and the importance of getting technology right. As customers personalised expectations are growing, she explained that customers exceedingly want brands to know them well and give them tailored service both in-store and online. Dr. Lazarevic referenced award winning retailers – such as Amazon, MM Lafleur, Purina, Eataly, Levi’s and Disney – who are serving up memorable retail experiences in both their online and offline channels. These best in class brands are integrating technology and traditional retail practices by investing in two areas: data collection and shop floor education.
Fortunately for these big brands they have the luxury of both big data and big budgets. Their hearty customer data pool supports the development of highly personalized transparent messages and services. Sadly, not every brand has the robust data or deep pockets to deliver such mass customization.
But Dr. Lazarevic did deliver some good news. All brands – big and small – still have the opportunity to evolve brand relationships into two-way conversations. Retailers and brands, for the most part, still have the luxury of having two-way dialogue via their bricks and mortar store.
My take-away from the seminar is clear. While online technologies offer consumers convenience, speed, ease of use, brick and mortar stores still have a distinct advantage – face to face personal interaction between the consumer and the sales associate in-store. These personal exchanges offers opportunities to expand and enhance customer relationships by building loyalty and encouraging purchases.
Again this was music to my ears. As a retail sales and marketing agency, we know first-hand that customer experience trumps price and product almost every time. There is no doubt that service is one of retail’s main differentiators for success and competitive advantage.
For further information on the World Retail Congress.
By Nabih (Nabs) Awad, Group Account Director, Retail Safari