Critizr: seven strategies for the physical retail reboot

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By Hazel Morton, head of marketing UK, Critizr

Morton: process of retail reinvention is underway

If the decline of physical retail was a hot topic before Covid-19, what are we to make of the headlines now? For every story of resilience and optimism, there are countless more of closures, redundancies and disappearing brands. Retail’s transformation was well underway before the pandemic, but its impact has accelerated the pace to a terrifying speed. As the way we live and work in our towns and cities changes, is the demise of physical retail an inevitable conclusion? 

For brick and mortar stores, I think there is some reason to be optimistic. Retailers have shown their mettle over the past few months, with an agile and inventive response to changing customer needs and preferences. Amidst the challenges, there are signs that a dynamic process of retail reinvention is underway. Here are the seven strategies retailers should be planning now to reboot physical retail for customers. 

1. Be customer obsessed

Be alert to customer feedback to understand their changing habits

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in retail over the coming months as Covid regulations fluctuate. Shopping habits are not going to settle down any time soon. That’s why the most reliable source of insight for your business is your customers. By being alert to customer feedback, you can quickly understand their changing habits and adapt plans accordingly, whether that’s store formats, ranges, staffing or service.

2. Excel at the basics

At the heart of the physical store experience, there’s still a set of customer mandatories: good service, convenience and a pain-free shopping process. Today that means a well-considered store layout, queue management, screens and signage to comply with safety and social distancing rules, contactless payments plus exceptional standards of cleaning and hygiene. Asda’s innovative trolley wash and cleaning robot trials are a great example of stores going above and beyond to reassure customers.

3. Use technology

Technology has been a hero of the pandemic, and it’s now playing a big part in physical retail recovery. ‘Phygital stores’ blend physical and digital shopping into one seamless customer journey – think QR codes, digital queueing, contactless payments, smart signage and virtual styling apps. Lush has enhanced its in-store experience with the ‘Lush Lens’ app, which cleverly lets customers scan unpackaged products for ingredient information, pricing and ‘how to’ demonstrations while they’re in the store. 

4. Think omni-channel

Social distancing and face masks impede levels of staff interaction in store, meaning customer conversations increasingly take place online. Everyone in your business should have omni-channel capabilities and understand the full customer journey. Do your customers research online and buy in store? Do they come to the store to gain more information before an online purchase? Understand these patterns and make sure staff adapt to better serve their customers. Currys PC World has done this, creating a function to cross channels and allow in-store teams to connect with customers shopping on their website, using live video chat.

5. Adapt locally

COVID restrictions vary across different cities and regions so there has never been a more pressing time to devolve power to regional branches, so they can better serve their customers. Don’t wait for localised problems to create frustration. Channel local feedback to store teams so staff can be quickly deployed to solve issues and deliver excellent customer service. Take the example of one Nisa Local Heysham partner who started up his own quick delivery service on facebook after requests from local customers. If local customers want something, take action. 

6. Build your brand

COVID has necessitated a focus on the transactional aspects of retail. But shopping should also be fun, and aimed at engaging customers with your brand. The trend towards immersive, entertaining retail experiences should continue – such as the fun, family-friendly outdoor market staged by Selfridges in London each weekend. Supporting community projects also shows a compassion for local issues – which customers increasingly want to see from the brands they shop with.

7. Bring staff with you

Don’t forget that these are huge changes for everyone in the business, but frontline retail staff are the people who will feel the impact most. Their working environment and daily routine will be different, and they need to be fuelled by a positive vision and sense of purpose to best serve customers. Make sure they know their value and understand the critical role they play in the customer experience by empowering them with local customer insights and channelling positive customer feedback their way. 

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)