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Why Physical Retail is Part of Your Marketing Strategy (and not the other way around!)

In the past 20 years, retail marketers have had to contend with a plethora of changes and challenges to keep up to date, drive brand relevancy, and solidify advocacy. We have experienced a rapid and widespread transformation that ranges from the introduction and growth of social media, digitalization of content, through to the birth of e-commerce and the global online marketplace, and rapid advancement of digital marketing. This coupled with consumers shortening attention span and desire for newness, it would seem you have to be a serial entrepreneur to keep up with, or be ahead of, the curve.

One of the largest changes we have witnessed is the rise and fall of the physical retail store, not in the sense that retail is dead – in fact far from it! I mean the rise of the store to become more than just a place to sell clothing or material goods. Stores that have been succeeding in the past 5 years have become centers of brand excellence or brand accessibility - a place to entice customers or to help demonstrate products and add a little flair. Physical retail is at times a welcome distraction, perhaps a piece of daily theatre breaking up the humdrum, offering either ease and personalised service, or more importantly creating a memorable branded experience.

In the early 2000s all retail marketers seemed to have needed to consider was how to entice customers into their stores - a task that was hugely driven by PR, brand value, and the power of celebrity endorsement. Couple this with strong in-store sales teams, regular product drops, and merchandising it seemed almost easy! However, when the rise of the e-commerce website came into play it seemed (for many late adopters), that e-commerce was frankly a little bit of an afterthought compared to the importance of their physical retail stores. It has taken a relatively long time for some to strategize how to turn their e-commerce website into a savvy commercial enterprise and many sites started as either:

1. A branded page with a lot of information yet not always easy to navigate

2. Somewhere you could dump stock that did not sell

3. To house commercial and ‘safe stock’ that added little value / or viewed as boring

4. A stock solution to help increase production orders to keep costs low

Most recently brands have shifted their focus to treat both physical stores and their respective websites slightly differently and within an omnichannel ecosystem. A shift that has been dramatically snowballed by the annus horribilis of 2020.

As the rise of the website seemed to gain pace, multiple brands and retailers were already considering switching up their physical store model. Some moved to social commerce, others towards pop-up spaces, and some saw value in demonstrating products. Those caught in the dormant retail operating models of the past began to fade (sadly think House of Fraser, Toys R Us, and Debenhams).

Shopping habits have changed, and savvy retailers have had to think on their feet. Luckily, those who were open to change and perhaps not stuck in or constrained to the outmoded models of retailing are winning, and we have seen it first-hand! The secret to their success (I hear you ask)? Here are our top tips to consider:

1. Treat your retail stores as part of your Marketing P&L and investment, rather than a separate budgetary entity.

a. Focus on physical retailing in some format to compliment omnichannel growth plans investments.

b. Consider looking at ways of broadening your Marketing budget to encompass short-term physical activities that support long-term growth.

2. Be agile in both your thinking and execution:

a. Use stores to test and learn, be it a new product, unknown locations, or perhaps a new target consumer.

b. Don’t be obsessed with pop-ups, other short-term ‘shortail’ or ‘semi-permanent retail opportunities can be just as valid and at times more cost-effective/profit-generating.

3. Consider your retail store as the place that will exponentially enhance your online growth.

a. This case study has been proven time and time again, so what are you waiting for?

b. Are there seamless synergies between offline and online in terms of the purchase?

c. Have you aligned consumers' expectations of the on and offline experience and customer service that they receive?

4. Stores should make your customer experience easy.

a. Does a product need demonstrating, does it help you further understand the brand ecosystem and lead towards a purchase?

b. Can you do collections/returns there, does it add value to your consumer by being well located or easy to navigate?

5. Use it as your shop window to the brand and product.

a. Think about how to add flavour and flair for your customer.

b. Consider creating memorable experiences and unusual ideas to grab people’s attention!

6. Re-evaluate the importance of your people, the one thing that cannot be transferred online is face-to-face customer service and the demonstration of product.

a. Consider hiring outside of your comfort zone - actors, creators, and entertainers all make perfect brand advocates.

Of course, you may feel that you do not have the resource, cognizance, or budget to fully embrace this strategy, that is where our Agile Retail team can help! We have recently compiled an insights document into the current and future state of physical retail, for more information download the full paper here:

Alternatively, get in touch and ask us how we can help you make retail better in 2021.


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