According to a recent study, fewer than half of SME retailers expect their businesses to be thriving in a decade’s time. The new research throws further light on the extent of the challenges facing many of the UK’s independent retailers and their physical stores. Yet, despite difficult trading conditions, and a clear sense of trepidation over their future, independent retailers have a lot to gain from changes to the retail landscape in recent years.
For the retailers taking part in this new research, a quarter (24%) suggested that keeping up with new in-store technologies is the single biggest challenge they face. But delivering a better experience for customers doesn’t have to come down to shiny new tech inside physical stores; instead, better experiences should be about understanding the customer and deliver hyper-personalised interactions – at every stage of the customer journey.
Consumers haven’t stopped shopping
It is certainly hard to ignore the dwindling footfall figures reported for some of the UK’s high street behemoths, but the fact of the matter is that people haven’t stopped shopping. Rather, their expectations have shifted in line with new technologies and ecommerce giants such as Amazon. This has led to an increase in expectation, and as the online experience gains in sophistication, these heightened expectations will continue to grow. However, this presents a real opportunity for independent retailers, who benefit from the agility that other larger retail businesses lack.
Providing more tailored experiences using tech
What consumers appreciate now when they’re shopping are those retailers that can provide good products, a good service and expert advice. Consumers have become far savvier and more selective, fuelled partly by the choice and greater opportunities for them to shop around online. When shopping online, they are also more likely to feel like a valued customer; particularly when retailers have gotten things right in terms of delivering effective personalisation.
As a result, in an era where providing personalised experiences is becoming more critical, independent retailers – by nature of their size – are more nimble and able to adapt quickly to this change in expectation. For example, a smaller retailer can really make their mark on a consumer. According to our own research, nearly half of respondents said that they want to be treated more like a valued customer, rather than just a number, which had encouraged them to shop with an independent retailer over their larger counterparts. The respondents in the study also said they wanted to buy from retailers who are experts in their field, knowledgeable and passionate about their offering.
The health and wellness sector is a good example of where this is particularly important. Customers in this space want genuine advice from specialists that they can trust, either online or instore. They want to feel that their needs have been heard and have this understanding translated into being offered products that will have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Once a customer has developed trust in the retailer that has fulfilled their needs, they are more likely to become repeat buyers.
For independent retailers, there is an even bigger opportunity to keep customers engaged and feeling appreciated or understood. With the right technological support, and by leveraging first party data, smaller retailers can demonstrate usefulness and a personalised experience at every stage of the customer journey. For example, if a retailer knows that a certain customer is a loyal, repeat purchaser, smaller operations are better able to reward such customers with unique offers, thank you gifts and suggestions for future purchases, based on a knowledge and understanding of the customers likes and preferences.
Adapting and growing
Rather than undergoing cost-cutting to attract and retain customers, it’s clear to see that consumers are more impressed by thoughtful interactions with a brand and the feeling that their custom is valued. For independents, there is huge opportunity to adapt and grow in line with changes in the retail landscape. Now is the time to invest in the right technological support to leverage first-party data and deliver personalised services. This will lead to more memorable experiences and the development of a loyal customer base ready to weather the storms of the future on the high street.