With shops shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s all too easy to look back on physical retail as a hallmark of a bygone era. Even before coronavirus entered our lexicon, the writing had been on the wall for shops with a physical presence since the start of the 2007-2008 financial crisis which took down the likes of Woolworths, Zavvi and even Dutch fashion giant C&A.
By now everybody’s talking about face masks and hand sanitizer, but turning around an ailing retail business goes beyond just adapting to the current public health crisis. As eCommerce and online shopping have slowly taken over the world, far too many retailers have let the modern age pass them by, leaving them at the mercy of the financial markets. If they are to survive, high street shops must look deeper into what it is they offer to their customers and double down on that value. As the COVID-driven financial downturn begins to bite, here are five characteristics of stores that are more likely to survive what is fast becoming an impossibly hard time for the retail industry.
1. Employees that are stakeholders, not just staff
As any business owner knows, it is the staff that make a business successful no matter how good its products or services are. The right kind of staff will leave customers feeling cared for, whilst a bad interaction with team members could see them heading home to leave a bad review and never to return. To make a success of future retail efforts, businesses need to invest in motivating, educating, and inspiring their staff.
To achieve this, it is necessary not just to look at what your employees do, but at the values they hold and reflect. Taking British grocery stalwart Waitrose and Partners as an example, everyone from the most senior managers to the checkout staff are referred to as ‘Partners’, with a small stake in the business. By incentivising their performance through a link to the performance of the business itself, Waitrose has created a workforce that is proud of the products they sell, and that has a deeply rooted, genuine interest in the future of the company. This is not to say that every business has to give its staff a share of the profits, but it serves as an example of just how important employee engagement is.
2. Experiences, not just products
There’s no doubt that the world of commerce is undergoing a paradigm shift. In the past it was sufficient for businesses to simply focus on the products they sold, but nowadays retailers need to take a more holistic approach and instead pay attention to the wider shopping experience. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, with a saturated market it’s all too easy for businesses to get lost in the noise if they just sell products without adding any value throughout the process. Secondly, with the rise of online shopping and eCommerce there’s simply no need to visit a physical shop unless doing so will be a valuable experience.
Products of all kinds are now available cheaply online, so people want more from their in-person retail endeavours. To this end, shops need to consider how they can remodel their customer journey to create a bespoke retail experience that is highly personalised to the customer. Whether that’s an in-depth personal shopping experience or a service that’s modelled to reflect their unique needs, it couldn’t be more important to differentiate your offering from the rest of the market.
3. Memorable environments on shops
It’s no longer enough for retailers to allocate all of their efforts into stocking a quality range of products, and instead they must also focus investment efforts on the shopping experience as a whole. This means ensuring that the store is not only clean, comfortable and functional, but also memorable and reflective of the brand’s identity.
Drab, utilitarian shopping environments have long been touted as a partial cause for the decline of the Great British department store. To turbocharge their customer engagement and sales figures, retailers need to encourage customers to spend more time in their stores, and that means paying attention to the colours, smells, sounds and layout of the store. Novelty also works very well, and by introducing originality into your shop you stand to benefit from the word-of-mouth and social media effect as customers tell their friends.
4. Seamless shopping
An effective in-store experience is a seamless one. If this weren’t true, eCommerce mammoth Amazon wouldn’t be opening check-out free grocery shops which negate the need for scanning the items a customer wants to buy. For retailers to survive and stand out, they need to make the customer journey frictionless, with the simplest possible route to getting the items they want to purchase.
To implement this, it’s essential for businesses to revisit their payment solutions. These days, merchant services providers like UTP Group offer a full suite of innovative payment solutions that allow businesses to take payment no matter where they are. Whether your vision for a seamless retail environment involves accepting payment throughout the entirety of your premises with a portable card machine, or taking your business out and about with a pocket-sized mobile card machine, their solutions could help you to enter the modern era and make a profit in the process. Make sure you also have card machine paper supplies, so that you are well prepared for customers.
5. Digital transformation for shops
Regardless of how you go about changing your business to cope with the post-COVID world, it’s quickly becoming obvious that nothing is guaranteed. With a continual slew of new measures from the Government, shops simply can’t count on being open consistently, and the only way to counter this is to get online. With a well-designed website and a safe and secure eCommerce payment gateway, you could be up and running in no time and able to focus your efforts on bringing in custom for your physical retail store.
Now is a pivotal moment in the history of retail, and only by adapting can businesses hope to survive.