The retail high street is suffering one of its toughest years ever. In the UK alone, almost 6,000 shops, travel agencies and estate agents shut their doors in 2017, more than in any year since 2010. More recently, legacy brands like House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer announced they would be closing stores as more people shop online.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. For every major brand that is struggling, we are also seeing retailers adapt to a digital audience and align their in-store and online offering. Sometimes in ways that weren’t even possible just five years ago.
Above all, retailers must close the gap between their own digital capabilities and the digital services customers now demand. Encouragingly, many are beginning to do so. Our research found that 72 percent of retailers plan to increase their digital marketing spend to meet the needs of customers craving digital experiences.
But investment in marketing technology is only half the battle. Just 25 percent of companies plan to invest in upskilling their staff, so they can work with these technologies. To really close the gap between their services and what consumers want, brands need a workforce that knows how to achieve this, and fast.
In short, alignment is the key. Here are four tips on how retailers can bring together their people, technologies, and approach and continue to thrive in a fast-changing market:
- Personalise service with data, with some help from AI
Retailers have never had more data at their disposal. Predictive analytics and a deeper understanding of customers allow them to deliver more personalised services, but to get this right, brands also need a coherent data strategy. Information kept in silos has no context and adds minimal value.
AI-driven machine learning has upped the ante by allowing retailers to dig further into their data and deliver more relevant, individualized experiences. They can build hyper-personalised profiles in a matter of minutes, and ensure their targeting is as robust as possible.
- Foster a unified, customer-centric culture
The brands disrupting retail today have built themselves on a digital culture from the inside out, one that puts customers first. This is the secret to aligning the retail experience across online, mobile and physical channels, and it starts with a company’s leadership. From the boardroom down, business leader must be committed to building cross-departmental bridges and rewarding collaborative behaviour. Without a unified culture, the same siloes will remain, resulting in disjointed experiences that will only turn customers off.
- Invest in digital marketing, and digital skills
Adobe’s 2018 Digital Trends report found that companies which have increased their investment in digital marketing are more likely to exceed their business goals. Crucially, top performing companies are twice as likely to be planning significant investment in digital skills and education, so their employees can stay on top of the latest trends and tools. This investment on both levels is crucial for any retailer aspiring to differentiate its customer experience.
- Focus on the right processes and collaborative workflows… and invest in the right tools to foster collaboration
One of the biggest challenges for retailers is to facilitate collaboration between creative, marketing and digital teams, and to gain the efficiencies that come with this. With a single customer experience platform in place, roles can be easily allocated and tasks managed more effectively across departments, aligning the way teams work and ensuring that processes are optimised. By investing in the employee experience, brands will make it easier to manage their digital assets and enhance productivity.
Retailers may be tempted to keep cutting costs and hope that the challenges they face are simply down to seasonality or an uncertain economy, but the closures we’ve seen in the past year are a clear indication that people expect something new. It is by delivering a joined-up experience across every channel and platform that brands will engage their customers and continue to drive sales.
Click here to learn how Adobe’s solutions help retailers unify their customer experience.