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Digital transformation in uncertain times

By Retail Technology | Friday April 7 2017

Claire Davenport, managing director at, part of RetailMeNot, on why retail marketers need to prioritise digital transformation to cut through the noise

Since the results of the UK’s Brexit referendum were announced, uncertainty has hung over the retail industry – and indeed the broader business landscape – within Great Britain and also across Europe. 

With inflation in the UK now at the highest rate since June 2014, there are undoubtedly tough times ahead for marketers tasked with gaining share of consumer spending in an environment where squeezed household budgets are likely to cause retrenchment in consumer spending. So, during these ambiguous times, just what can marketers for retail brands do to continue to drive recurring custom, secure investment and still prove out ROI?

Connected, cohesive, simple

To continue to boost business in this uncertain market, retailers and those responsible for their marketing need to even more actively embrace the immutable consumer trends and spearhead digital transformation; ensuring a cohesive digital offering that means every aspect of business changes in response to rapidly evolving technology and the equally rapid evolution of consumer expectations that this drives. Marketing from siloed channels (mobile, online, in-store) is no longer relevant to consumer behaviour in a world where information is regularly consumed across multiple screens. 

A coherent, customer-focused digital marketing strategy will have an immense impact on sales and on the long-term future of a retailer’s brand. Aside from advocating product evolution within their business, marketers should be polishing initiatives that shrink barriers to spending - promoting the technology that allows consumers to transact seamlessly on any device; continuing to respond to seasonal spending trends and occasions with impactful, multi-channel campaigns and ensuring seamless channel integration is at the forefront of marketing campaigns. 

My own company works closely with marketing teams at leading multi-channel retailers across the UK to help them break down the barriers between two major channels – online and in-store. We send targeted promotions to eight million high-intent shoppers and 4.7 million app users, allowing these consumers to seamlessly redeem offers both online and in-store. This enables retailers to drive incremental sales online and increase footfall in their physical stores whilst reinforcing the customer first approach – removing barriers to a cross-channel shopping journey and helping deliver the holistic omnichannel experience customers now expect. Many UK retailers have not yet successfully integrated digital coupons in-store – reflected in the fact that 63% of UK consumers have not yet used digital coupons on the high street.  This is a huge opportunity for marketers to encourage brand loyalty and reoccurring custom. 

Reassuringly, nine in 10 leading multi-channel retailers already offer real-time promotions to enhance the physical store experience; four-fifths allow shoppers to check stock availability, and over 75% of UK retailers are planning to increase digital investment over the next two years to enhance the traditional bricks-and-mortar customer experience . More than ever, retailers must ensure the focus is on providing a shopping experience which puts a customer in complete control of their shopping journey across all channels – and marketers should emphasise this customer-first approach throughout their communications. 

Consistency is key

So far, retailers have largely protected consumers from the rise in prices incurred as a result of the fall in value of the pound since Brexit. The BRC’s latest report reveals retail prices were down 1% year-on-year in February 2017  - but with Brexit casting a threatening shadow over profit margins it’s unlikely this will be maintained throughout 2017.  

Today’s consumer is more price-aware than ever before, so in order to maintain share and customer consideration, retailers must strive to ensure ongoing competitive pricing and marketers must focus on delivering ongoing communication that emphasises a brand’s efforts in this area. 

On a basic level, enhanced price-awareness has been driven by the technology that allows today’s shoppers to check offers and compare prices in real time on the same or similar products via any connected device, even while in the bricks and mortar store. Nine in 10 consumers admit to ‘show-rooming’ on their mobiles when they are in a physical store , meaning retailers are already under pressure to ensure they offer competitive pricing, not only with direct high street competitors but also with those operating solely online. 

Retailers should be doing as much as possible to ensure that consistency within their brand also extends to pricing across all channels, and retail marketers should be focusing on campaigns that demonstrate this shift.  

Third-parties to drive success

It’s hardly news that data is key in strategic marketing, but until recently retailers and marketers have often been stumped by a lack of infrastructure able to serve real time data on consumer behaviour. What’s more, customer data is – quite understandably – jealously guarded within organisations, meaning marketers often only have access to siloed channel data and macro spending data, with no insight into the behavioural consumer trends pervading sectors within the industry. 

Whether retail brands choose to work with key strategic marketing partners or seek insight from third-party consumer behaviour experts, it will be more important than ever for retailers to bolster their in-house insight in order to give their marketers the best shot at ensuring share of the harder to win consumer pound.  

In summary, while there are still unseen challenges ahead, UK businesses – including retailers – have weathered challenging economic times in recent years. Taking the learnings from such, combined with a continued focus on technology and the consumer, will ensure businesses are in the best possible position to navigate the bumpy road to come. I still believe we’re at the beginning of a huge, exciting transformation of the retail landscape. Marketers know that tech-savvy consumers are ultimately driving the revolution of the high-street, they demand ease and consistency from brands however they chose to shop with them and will spend elsewhere if another retailer can deliver the experience they want.  

Using digital to drive customers in-store and increase loyalty is a sensible move towards the unified omnichannel experience, retail marketers who are able to meet the demands of their cross-channel shoppers will thrive.

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