There are several factors which affect high street retail stores. It’s not only about rising rentals and wages; it’s about technological disruption and changing consumer behaviour. There have been many store closures, especially in apparel and fashion: the first half of 2018 saw 1,123 net closures across the UK high street, 104 in Debenhams alone.
PwC UK’s Consumer Markets Leader, Lisa Hooker, remarked, “The continued rate of store closures reflects the new reality that many of us prefer to shop online and increasingly eat, drink and entertain at home. The high street is adapting to an overcapacity in retail and leisure space resulting from these channel shifts.”
Retailers that only have brick-and-mortar stores have reached a tipping point. Dangers lie ahead for those who ignore the signs but for those that embrace the new reality, the opportunities are great. By the end of 2018, e-commerce sales are expected to reach a share of 18 per cent of all retail sales in the UK.
What do customers really want?
It seems that there are three important drivers behind customer satisfaction:
• An efficient buying experience
• Good delivery logistics
• Responsive customer services
The buying experience
Customers want a personalised experience and a seamless journey from one touch point to the next. They also want an easy-to-navigate website or mobile platform, efficient delivery and open communication channels. Some success factors for retailers are:
• A fast-response website. A few milliseconds delay can mean the difference between making a sale and losing it to a competitor
• Visual and social search (think Instagram) is changing the way that consumers shop for products. High-quality videos and animation show off the features of a product, often using virtual reality. Imagine being able to “try out” a piece of furniture or gadget in your home before buying
• Mobile friendly. This means integrating the mobile experience into every element of the customer journey. For example, consumers book, pay for and access tickets and travel vouchers on their mobile devices
• Easy payment options. One-click purchasing is making online shopping faster and more convenient. Pioneered by Amazon, one-click purchasing is fast becoming the norm. These “digital wallets” are now also available through Pay-Pal, Apple, and Visa. Millenials make up a large proportion of consumers and are increasingly influencing how we buy. They have high expectations because e-commerce is what they understand
Understanding the logistics of e-commerce is crucial. Customers today don’t just want on-time deliveries as promised, they also expect transparency over order status and delivery progress at all times:
• Same-day delivery is becoming an expectation; the need for speed is growing. The “last mile”, i.e. the movement of goods between a transport hub and a delivery address is often the most inefficient step in the delivery process. “Uberisation” of the last mile is among the latest trends. Drones are an option but they have a very limited range for lightweight products and there are many regulations regarding their operation
• Returns are a big, expensive headache. It’s not uncommon to see return rates of 30 – 40 per cent or more for merchandise that’s bought online. Tom Enright, supply chain research director at Gartner says “unless retailers invest in their ability to manage returns, the volume of returns coming back will cause problems in their overall supply chain.” Reverse logistics is providing a significant opportunity for third-party logistics service providers
Online retailers need to consider the long-term effects of their fulfilment problems and focus on customer satisfaction. They need to provide:
• 24/7 support across all channels. This helps customers to solve their problems fast and get the information they need – it is increasingly becoming non-negotiable
• Open lines of communication on websites and on mobile applications (e.g. chatbots and FAQs) that help customers to solve their problems and get the needed information
• A personal approach that offers rewards for customers based on previous purchasing behaviour
The high street chains, although some are struggling, still have a future. Deloitte, in a 2018 report on e-commerce, proposes that retailers re-imagine the store:
Be more than a store – Retailers need to ensure that their stores remain relevant and consumers want to keep coming back to them. Experience is more important than ever, and stores need to be more than just places to transact…
Put digital in your physical – Retailers are realising that the biggest impact that digital can have on their business is in-store. Some of the most innovative and compelling stores make digital a core part of the physical experience
Sell online instore – Online retailers are turning to stores to help them grow their businesses and help service their customers. But these are very different stores, ones that look to replicate the online experience in the offline world
The e-commerce space is evolving quickly and there are shifting consumer expectations. Online retailers have a wealth of technology options at their disposal, and must take advantage of new innovations and improved functionality. They need to optimise e-commerce platforms for mobile browsers and applications to provide a superior shopping experience. User-friendly must be more than a buzzword.