q The future of retail depends on meeting your customers’ basic needs now - Business Reporter

The future of retail depends on meeting your customers’ basic needs now

by Ian Tomlinson, CEO, Cybertil

Retailers who skip basic omnichannel services in favour of future technology may not be around for the future of retail.

There is a lot of doom-and-gloom rhetoric around about the demise of the high street. Historic British institutions are struggling or going out of business. Many an expert has speculated as to why, but for me, it all comes down to this: failing retailers jumped ahead, investing in future technology that didn’t fix what was already broken in their businesses.

Future retail technology can be seen as a PR-able quick fix to a failing business, when in fact what consumers actually need from retailers is far more basic than robots, AI and IoT. Recent consumer research from YouGov and retail software firm Cybertill suggests that consumers will naturally gravitate towards buying from retail businesses that offer services that meet their needs. So, the trick to being able to enrich the data you have now is to offer services that people actually want to interact with.

Offer certainty through accessible inventory data

YouGov research suggests that 73 per cent of Brits like going into stores because of the immediacy of getting a product, and not having to wait for delivery (YouGov and Cybertill Online In-store Shopping, 2018). 44 per cent of UK adults would use technology that provides real-time product availability of items in-store if it was available, while 42 per cent want to see the availability of products in nearby stores via a mobile app. This is significantly more important to younger consumers, with 59 per cent of Generation Z customers (18-24) showing interest in accessing stock information in real time, compared with only 36 per cent of over-55s. In fact, when asked what technology they would use in-store if it were available to them, 39 per cent of over-55s said they would not use any of the “futuristic tech” listed, such as virtual shop assistants, till-less stores, self-service stations or facial recognition technology if they were available instore (YouGov, Future Shopping 2019).

Sell on the channels where consumers want to buy

Product information, including pricing and promotions, need to be rich and organised in such a way that retailers can sell products wherever the customer wants to buy – this could be a website, an app, in-store or on a marketplace. 52 per cent of Brits would buy clothing from an online marketplace and 47 per cent would consider purchasing footwear and accessories from an online marketplace – similar numbers were seen for jewellery (44 per cent), furniture (48 per cent), home decor (53 per cent) and toy retailers. Southerners are more likely to buy clothing items through an online marketplace than those in the North, with 57 per cent saying they would, compared with 49 per cent of Northerners. However, among Generation Z (18 to 24), 74 per cent of consumers would buy clothing directly from a brand or retailer, while only 54 per cent would use an online marketplace to buy clothing, except for when buying books (65 per cent – from Amazon, naturally) (YouGov 2019).

Make it easy to browse, buy and be loyal

32 per cent of consumers said they would use self-service payment apps in-store, which would allow them to avoid queuing at the till. Interestingly, only 13 per cent would prefer a till-less store to avoid interacting with shop staff, suggesting that consumers’ desire for self-service is driven by convenience, not avoidance (YouGov 2019). 35 per cent of consumers visit a store for the face-to-face customer service, which means equipping your staff with the data they need is essential to building relationships with customers on the shop floor (YouGov 2018).

40 per cent of consumers would want easy access to a loyalty scheme via a mobile app. When it comes to subscription-based loyalty schemes, 41 per cent of Generation Z have a VIP retail subscription, such as Amazon Prime or ASOS Premier, whereas only 26 per cent of older generations (45+) do. When asked why not, 52 per cent of consumers who didn’t have a subscription scheme said it was because they didn’t shop with any particular retailer enough, followed by 39 per cent who stated it didn’t seem worth the money. Surprisingly, only 10 per cent said they didn’t buy a loyalty subscription scheme because they didn’t want to give away their personal data.

So what’s next?

Stop building apps nobody uses. Stop cutting shop-floor labour and replacing people with screens. Start analysing and organising the rich data you have right now, building data-driven services that customers want to use, and don’t worry about future technology trends until you’ve nailed the core of what’s important to shoppers now.

Learn more about how the right retail software can help you prepare for the future of retail.

© Business Reporter 2021

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