The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium have revealed that UK retail sales fell by 2.7% this May, the biggest decline in 25 years. Yet for those following the tale of the high-street retail decline, this is hardly a twist to the plot, writes Rees Flynn, Head of Retail at WiFi SPARK.
With bricks-and-mortar stores struggling to drive sales and maintain customer allegiance, online retail has been blamed as the reason for shoppers abandoning the high-street. However, there is more to the story of physical versus digital than meets the eye.
It’s Not E-commerce, It’s the Customer
Undeniably the increasing number of e-commerce brands is creating more choice for consumers as to where they shop, meaning bricks-and-mortar stores must work harder to stand out. Yet e-retail is not the enemy, it is the customer who is changing the retail landscape and increasing their expectations of retailers.
Consumer behaviour is changing at an unprecedented rate and this is creating new demands and pressures for offline and online retailers alike. Amazon, with its speedy delivery and review-led products, has become the gold-standard for consumers. Netflix, Premier Inn and PureGym are further examples of customer-centric brands who are setting a precedent for customer expectation.
Now consumers want shopping experiences which are convenient but still memorable. They are spending less and want to feel valued more by brands. Retailers face a balancing act to meet these high expectations.
Bigger and Better Customer Experience
The latest Which? report on the best and worst high street shops has confirmed that the most successful retailers are those making the in-store experience bigger and better for customers.
High rankers from the review such as Apple, John Lewis and Richer Sounds all have a common theme in their customer approach: deliver a service which continually exceeds expectation and adds value to the consumer.
Although bound by bricks and mortar, these high-street retailers are not limited in terms of what they can offer to customers. Customers cited the exceptional knowledge of staff members, reliable service and value-for-money products as the key factors which make those top-level stores stand out. Indeed, Richer Sounds is famous for its policy of helping customers carry their purchases to the car and even paying for their parking if necessary. John Lewis is also renowned for its store layout which makes navigation effortless, and highly trained sales advisors who can assist customers with any query.
Struggling stores should look to the high performing retailers and ask how their in-store experience compares for customer service, staff support and overall experience. If they don’t measure up, this is where retailers should replicate best practices to create a store tailored to the customer’s needs.
Going above and beyond for customers is necessary to stand out with customers, especially when retailers such as Amazon make it so easy for shoppers to have cheap products delivered to their door. High-street retail must provide something unique to entice customers.
Bringing Online and Offline Together
Bricks-and-mortar stores cannot ignore that bigger and better experiences for modern consumers must include an online element. Shoppers expect a seamless physical and digital experience, as demonstrated by Sainsburys’ latest innovation which will see the UK’s first app-only checkout service in selected stores. Blending digital connectivity with the in-store experience adds convenience and value for modern shoppers and importantly gives them more reason to stay loyal to your brand.
WiFi is a cost-effective way to create an innovative customer experience and drive brand resonance. A fully-branded WiFi User Experience allows customers to easily access retail apps, loyalty programmes and share their experiences on social media. Whilst enabling mobile service for customers, these digital interactions also bring customers closer to the brand and helps create a personal level of engagement. Stores can integrate their apps and loyalty programmes directly via the WiFi User Experience for a personalised approach, ensuring that customers don’t miss out on the latest offers or chance to use their loyalty points.
Incorporating WiFi in-store enables retailers to enhance the customer experience, giving them the freedom to shop as they wish whilst driving the all-important engagement. But how else can retailers improve for customers? Firstly, stores need to know what their customers want, and with expectations constantly changing, this is easier said than done.
It is time for physical retailers to integrate digital tools and start thinking with an e-commerce mindset. Offline stores can use their WiFi data to analyse the customer journey and most importantly, to understand what customers want.
E-commerce is better equipped to adapt to changing customer tastes. The nature of a website makes it easier for e-retailers to track, measure and analyse the customer experience. If a customer is failing to purchase, they can determine whether slow loading speed or a cluttered product page is hindering conversion. E-commerce use such insights to better comprehend customer behaviour and therefore improve the experience.
Yet there is no reason why physical stores cannot do the same and understand the customer through using their WiFi analytics. Working with your digital connectivity insights enables you to map the physical customer journey in-store, to understand why they shop at certain times and not others and what incentivises them to spend more and visit again.
Data-powered In-store Experience
If you compare digital to in-store, website clicks would equate to footfall, slow browsing experience to poor in-store assistance and session duration to dwell-time. Retailers can access all this information once the customer connects to the store’s digital connectivity, enabling them to drill down into what motivates shopper behaviour.
Measuring the number of WiFi sign-ups and average user sessions enables retailers to determine the volume of shoppers and how long shoppers are spending in-store. If footfall and dwell-time leaves something to be desired, retailers can then take measures to entice shoppers in and improve the customer experience so they will shop for longer. Similarly, peak WiFi sign-on times indicates peak shopping times. Stores might use this insight to time marketing events and daily special offers which target customers at the opportune moment, for maximum impact and effective use of resources.
Analysing whether shoppers have logged into the WiFi before importantly indicates whether they are a first-time visitor or return customer. This data is invaluable for retailers to give them a laser-focus in their marketing approach, helping them to target new and loyal customers with offers accordingly, as well as staying agile and responsive to consumer trends. Personalising brand communications in this way is more effective and goes a long way in making the customer feel valued and incentivised to shop again.
The future of bricks-and-mortar stores will depend on using digital data to make informed real-world actions. Using WiFi as the lens to view the customer journey is an accurate way for retailers to understand the shopper and create experiences tailored to their needs.
It’s a Customer-centric World
Consumers today want more, more, more and for the high-street to survive, it must adapt to deliver. Stores need to create exceptional experiences which offer customers something they cannot get anywhere else. Adding value is the key to winning customer satisfaction and loyalty. By integrating WiFi into the store offering and harnessing digital analytics, retailers have the power to analyse the customer’s in-store journey, create marketing strategies which speak directly to the individual shopper and accurately improve the store experience. This is why retailers must act now and put in place solutions that are about more than just WiFi.