Why now is the time for retail

by Warren Richmond | CEO Situ Live

Mar 5, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably shaken up the world of retail, but as the dust starts to settle, retailers must look to the future.

Those who use this time to reinvent their business, reacting to evolving consumer trends and priorities around technology and service, will be the ones to thrive.

Footfall data indicates that once British non-essential retail can reopen there will be swarms of eager shoppers ready to descend.

This is good news for retailers in the short-term, but to stand out from the crowd and ensure shoppers keep coming back, they need to maintain a sense of dynamism and adaptability.

Pent-up demand for experiences

The number of people heading out to shopping centres, high street and retail parks has been increasing week on week from the start of January to the end of February. In the week of Feb. 27, footfall was up 11% versus the previous week, signalling a sixth week of rises despite the national lockdown.

Springboard director Diane Wehrle believes the data evidences a pent-up demand amongst shoppers and indicates that there will be a surge once retail destinations reopen. This is partially due to escalating lockdown fatigue and increased consumer confidence driven by Britain’s accelerated vaccination campaign. 

Another factor that should not be overlooked, is the engrained human desire for connection and new experiences. The fundamental need to experience life has not been extinguished by the pandemic, if anything it is more prevelant than ever.

Consumers, particularly millennials, are spending more money on doing things, rather than purchasing things. If brands can adapt to these shifting behaviours and move to deliver compelling experiences above all else, then retail is going to go from strength to strength.  

Brands with purpose

During lockdown, many stores stepped up to serve the community, offering click-and-collect services and providing exclusive shopping hours for the vulnerable. Going forward, shoppers will demand more from the brands they choose.

Consumers will be looking for brands with a purpose that goes further than simply making money. For businesses to have cut through in an increasingly competitive market, they’ll need a strong set of brand values and a solid identity.

Brands need to be creative and provide tailored, purposeful experiences to shoppers. This can provoke a sense of community and brand affinity, and will encourage shoppers to engage with the brands long after they have made a purchase.

The very concept of retail and building brand loyalty is set to be redefined. Immersive experiential retail will supplant bland, outdated stores, using meaningful brand-aligned entertainment activities to enrich the shopping experience.

Multi-channel as a must

The recent lockdowns forced consumers to buy more products online, and this behaviour isn’t going anywhere. In fact, 16 percent of consumers will buy more products online after lockdown.

There is no point resisting this change, instead retailers should be viewing emerging technology as an opportunity to improve customer experience. The adoption of cutting-edge technologies will be one of the key factors that dictates which brands flourish.

Yet buying online, doesn’t necessarily mean browsing online. Online sales will continue to rise, but the entire ‘shopping’ experience won’t take place exclusively online. Physical stores, events and offline advertising will continue to play a major role in influencing consumer awareness and consideration.  

Going forward, brands cannot simply rely on a single channel. They must be prepared to go wherever their customers are, and increasingly this is across a multitude of channels and spaces – both online and offline.

So why now?

There is undeniably a pent-up demand for experiences. Consumers are bored of being stuck at home, with every interaction taking place online, and understandably want to get out and try new things.

There is undeniably a huge demand for experiences to make a comeback. However, for brands to capitalise on this, they need to be acting with purpose and adding true value to the customer experience. Those that do not deliver on this will fall by the wayside.

Digital experiences are great, but they are just one side of the equation. Brands are waking up to the realisation that far from forgetting about a physical presence, it is time to reconceptualise the instore experience for a new generation.

We can expect the shuttering of more underperforming brands over the next year. But for those who adapt, listen to their customers, and deliver enthralling experiences, the time for retail is now. 

Situ Live is embracing this mobile-first mentality – our multi-brand venues designed as experiential hubs where shoppers can truly engage with products and are empowered to purchase when, where, and how they like – via website, social commerce, or livestreaming.