Retail businesses have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus lockdown – but it’s not all bad news. By paying attention to the fast-evolving trends affecting the post-pandemic world, savvy entrepreneurs can protect their interests and even boost sales. Here are our 10 top tips for surviving in the future of retail.
Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly daily news of retailers shutting their doors for good. Although many stores have been forced to close, there are opportunities for struggling business owners to refocus their efforts and adapt to changing times. Take Argos, for example…
While other retailers have experienced a decline in sales, Argos’ overall income figures are higher than last year’s – despite having closed all its 573 stores. Sales at the high street store chain are up by over 10 percent, thanks to an increase in home delivery sales of 78 percent and ‘click & collect’ transactions by 53 percent.
These improvements more than make up for the drop-off of in-store sales. According to Argos, the rise in online purchases reflects the “strength and flexibility of the digital and technology platforms” the retailer has built in response to new consumer spending habits. As venture capitalise Michael Jackson says,
Those retailers that work hardest to acquire customer knowledge and put it to good use will be best placed to compete in the future.
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10 tips for retail businesses coming out of the COVID-19 crisis
1. Ramp up your online division
No list of tips for surviving the future of retail would be complete without a reference to the growing trend for online sales. As retail analyst Richard Lim explains, the number of people shopping on the internet is only going to increase:
“Sections of society are being forced to go on a customer journey they wouldn’t otherwise have embarked on. People who couldn’t be bothered to try online shopping are getting past the initial friction of setting up an online account and inputting their payment details.”
2. Sell what people want
Another key factor in industry survival; do your research and consider how you can adapt to changing consumer habits. According to VoucherCodes, the number of online searches for loungewear increased by over 319 percent during lockdown. Proactive fashion retailers were quick to increase and promote their loungewear collections.
3. Focus on experiences
Although this tip may sound counter-intuitive, it could be beneficial to put more emphasis on the customer journey. Experts believe ‘stock-less stores’ are the future of retail, where consumers can learn more about a product before buying it online. In the UK, retail businesses like Tesla and Apple use high street premises to encourage people to take a closer look at their products and create a buzz around them.
“Apple does really well in combining bricks and clicks. It’s demonstrated a powerful showrooming concept, where the store is primarily a front face for consumers to see, feel and experience the product. Many companies have followed suit.” – Carl Reader, author of The Startup Coach and founder of fintech start-up TaxGo.
4. Try stocking fewer variations of a larger number of products
Some retail businesses are experimenting with eliminating some of their product lines. Often, customers are bamboozled by choice; do we really need 50 different types of shampoo in one supermarket aisle? By selecting the most popular products and streamlining your low-priced stock you free up space to introduce new, innovative, premium or trend pieces as they come and go.
5. Add a subscription service
Subscriptions are all the rage at the moment and look set to continue in popularity. More and more consumers are coming to recognise the value of convenience, paying slightly more to have their favourite products automatically shipped to them on a regular basis. Everything from fruit and veg boxes to fresh flowers to shaving kits are currently being delivered across the world, so why not get in on the action?
6. Introduce virtual services
Many retail businesses have already opened up their offering to include online services. Consider providing extra information or consultations via video calls. John Lewis is one retailer using this method to its advantage. The high street giant has launched a dedicated hub called ‘Your Partners Through It All’, where customers can book one-to-one appointments with a variety of experts. You can get fashion and interior design advice, and even access ‘how-to’ instructions for other areas like gardening.
7. Use online help chats
Some people have a negative view of bots, but they can be incredibly useful when it comes to resolving customer queries quickly and efficiently. Website visitors tend to react positively when a bot doesn’t pose as a real person; use it as an option for answering questions and taking people to the necessary pages. Or, if you have the manpower, hire employees to run a help service.
“Introducing online chats round the clock to provide real-time customer assistance could be a powerful tool to win customer awareness, understanding and trust. In short, retailers need to invest in new technology to speak the language of what customers want now and in future." – Dr Eleonora Pantano, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Bristol
8. Add a personal touch
Consumers usually value authenticity in business, so you should do everything you can to make a meaningful connection with your customers. Many shoppers are hesitant to head back into the stores and risk catching the virus, so building trust is going to be more important than ever.
“Tangible gestures and donations can improve brand image and increase consumers’ attachment to it both now and after the crisis. In some ways, the relationship has become more personal and retailers will be seeking to continue and capitalise on this once normality is restored.” – Dr Pantano
9. Focus on sustainability
During the lockdown, many people stopped buying their takeaway coffees, new clothes and meals out. Having lived without such luxuries for several months now, it’s likely a large proportion of shoppers won’t go back to their previous habits.
“The pause for reflection that consumers are making at the moment could lead to a reassessment of what’s important.” – Retail Analyst Richard Lim
“The lockdown has definitely made me less materialistic. I will be reducing my spending on eating out, clothing and fashion accessories. They are not environmentally sustainable and there are things in life that are more important.” – Sharanya Basu Roy, Associate Lecturer from Derby
10. Introduce incentives
We may not be in lockdown anymore, but retail businesses are still suffering because consumers are nervous to return to brick and mortar shops. One of the best ways to counteract this underperformance is by offering incentives to tempt customers back.
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Take the right steps to safeguard your retail business
Hopefully, we’ve given you some reassurance that you have the power to take real action to protect your retail business. If you’d like to find more information across a range of different subjects, see our diverse article cache.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in setting up your very own retail business franchise unit, you can take a look at our lucrative opportunities today.
Alice Tuffery, Point Franchise ©