Everyone’s still talking about the demise of familiar high street names.
However, retail expert Karl McKeever believes Northamptonshire’s retailers can avoid more disasters with a fresh approach to technology.
“I recently read the US Temkin Customer Experience rankings.
In this report, which is compiled on the strength of customer ratings, there were 18 different industries represented.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 32 of the top 33 companies were retailers.
Obviously customers have the most direct contact with retailers in their day-to-day lives so, when asked, retail brands are likely to spring to mind.
Yet they clearly lead the pack in how to deliver a great customer experience.
So why are we failing to do this to any significant effect on the UK high street?
Surely, the promise of a high street served only by a few successful mega brands, sandwiched in between pound shops, charity shops, bookies and coffee chains is NOT what consumers want?
We may be over the worst of the recession, but there is still no place for complacency.
John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Next all recognise the importance of the physical store presence and are experimenting with various sizes and formats, understanding that retailers must be more flexible, responsive and adaptable.
And whereas, for some, visual merchandising and service are regarded simply as the icing on the cake, these players see them as crucial ingredients for success.
Yet where John Lewis, and also Apple, lead the field, is in the delivery of integrated multi-channel strategies.
The former’s website is considered a standard bearer, but it continues to invest in its store experience – combining but not cannibalising sales and brand presence.
Northamptonshire’s retailers can learn from these.
Firstly, the store needs to be strong, but it will only work to its full potential in today’s market if it is teamed with a compelling online presence.
The whole ensemble then needs to be tight enough to inspire confidence, and therefore loyalty, from consumers.
If the mantra of ‘profit loves speed’ is true, then those retail businesses that cannot act soon enough and run an effective multichannel strategy are, I fear, doomed.
Only when they are ready to deliver an experience that is worthy of the customer paying more and taking the trip out to ‘smaller but perfectly formed’ stores will growth take off again.
Although the national brands will go more high-tech in terms of interactive fitting rooms, mobile payment and delivery to any location, the best independents will also be able to offer effective multichannel retailing.
Thanks to the abundance of easy-to-use technology, ordering by smartphone is, arguably, easier to implement for small independents than it is for chains. Paired with creative but simple websites, they can offer a very personal touch akin to standing in the store and watching an assistant prepare your goods in front of your eyes.
Even perhaps ordering via an instant messaging service with an actual human to reply.
You can’t stop progress but, in this scenario, retailers taking an integrated, brand-led multichannel approach will still be here, and thriving. Trust me.”
Karl McKeever is brand director at retail consultancy Visual Thinking.