New figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have revealed that like-for-like retail sales in the UK in April fell by 4.2 per cent year-on-year. Alongside this, total sales in the same period were down 3.1 per cent, representing the sharpest fall since the BRC started collecting data 23 years ago. Despite these significant declines, data from Barclaycard has shown that overall consumer spending rose by 3.4 per cent year-on-year in April, which highlights the particular struggles that the retail sector is facing.
According to Aspect Software, these figures underline the crucial need for retailers to up their game when it comes to providing customers with a comprehensive omnichannel experience, in order to offset these recent difficulties and ensure they remain competitive in a rapidly evolving retail climate.
Stephen Ball, senior VP Europe & Africa at Aspect, said: “These latest figures are symptomatic of the wider issues that the UK high street is facing. While the year-on-year drop in sales can be explained partly by the bulk of Easter shopping being done in March this year, the general trend is a downward one. The fact that consumer spending as a whole has increased also shows that people do have money to spend, but are choosing not to spend it on retail.
“In order to address this, retailers need to do more to improve and optimise the current experience that they are able to offer to their customers. Key to this is building and maintaining an omnichannel platform that provides the option to shop and interact through a variety of different media to suit customers’ individual needs and preferences. Online and mobile-based shopping have become hugely popular, so tackling the woes of the high street is about taking these experiences and replicating them as effectively as possible across all channels.
For an omnichannel experience to be truly successful, Ball believes that a key area for retailers to consider is that of customer engagement. By making sure that the process of interacting with a company is straightforward and easily adapted to each customer’s individual circumstances, retailers can win a key battle in their attempts to differentiate from their competitors in an era of high street strife.
He added: “When it comes to building a positive reputation and fostering customer loyalty, making customer engagement procedures flexible and user-friendly is of paramount importance. For example, a customer who buys a product in-store should then have the option to interact seamlessly with an online or telephone-based engagement centre, and should be able to choose whether to have their queries answered by a human agent or via an automated self-service facility.
“Effectively, it is about giving customers choice, and easing their buying experience at every stage of the journey. By joining everything up in this way, retailers will be able to provide the same, familiar experience they offer through their online and mobile channels, which can be instrumental in bringing customers back to high street stores.”
He concluded: “Such challenging times call for a positive show of resilience from retailers: having this omnichannel experience in place will be hugely important in conveying an upbeat, confident image to consumers.”