UK Retail: The Survival of the Fittest

For those of us who’ve been a part of the UK retail industry for any length of time, April headlines are the source of many knowing smiles—bouncing madly as they do between projections for the perpetual death of the high street, and better-than-expected announcements from the larger brands who compete on it.

Yes, there are some undeniable and well-known truths:

  • Online shopping is changing the game
  • Households are tightening their belts
  • Millennials are much pickier than previous generations

But beyond that, can we definitively say that brick-and-mortar is crumbling?

There are those who say yes—changes to the way we shop are too far gone to be rescued. I know it’s a subject keeping many of the retailers that I talk to each week awake at night. But I believe that, somewhere in the noise, these better-than-expected announcements herald good news—that smart, savvy high street stores who play the customer game right can still win, and flourish.

Because I don’t believe it’s absolute spend that’s changing the game—i.e., money disappearing. There is money still there to be had and our own data shows that quite clearly. What’s really changing is consumer sentiment—that is, the increasing demands that consumers want met before they part with their hard-earned cash. They don’t just want a product, they want an experience—a value exchange—a bit more bang for their buck.

So, as the bright spots in the news show, a winning retail growth strategy is very much one that’s built around the total consumer experience. One that blends the right elements of product value, customer service, channel experience and brand perception into a single, complete engagement that drives the customer to spend more.

How do you get that mix right? Well, here’s a pretty frank quote from a recent PWC sector review: “Knowing the consumer, what they want and how they want to buy, will become more important than ever.” So, in other words, listening to your customers more closely, and linking what they say to their spending habits is how you get it right.

But where to begin? Well, it should be a pretty simple step-by-step process:

  • Start with giving the customer a voice—at the right time and in the right place—to tell you what you need to hear
  • Take their voices together and quickly and effectively qualify them against the different areas of your business that make up their experience
  • Play a bit of test-and-learn game, a game of marginal gains, where you tweak each element and track what works best
  • And of course—repeat, repeat, repeat

I know it doesn’t sound like rocket science—it’s not!—but until TruRating came along, it’s been surprisingly hard to do. Mainly because retail has been a little slower than many other verticals in grasping that simple solution—making technology do the hard graft.

The retail game is not a sprint—it’s a marathon where you must continually tweak and adjust elements of your performance to meet customer expectations and brand perceptions. I firmly believe that technology, in many different guises, holds the answer, and over the next few weeks I’ll be adding to this blog to go through what that means. I’ll be looking at the concept of “getting fit” for your business, and the different areas you can address to make marginal gains on your profits.

So stay tuned. And, in the meantime, do check out the PWC report linked above. It’s well worth a read.

Jill Bentley

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