The Changing Experience of Retail

Friday, 31st May 2019

On 23rd May, pro-manchester hosted our annual Retail & Ecommerce Lunch at Manchester Hall. Ilona Alcock, Sector Group MAnager at pro-manchester, shares the key takeaways.  

Sam Booth, Chief Executive of pro-manchester welcomed over 100 delegates to the event and thanked our sponsors, B Works (home of pro-manchester’s SME Club), for their support. She then handed over to our host for the day, Sian English, Head of Multichannel at seventy7 and chair of pro-manchester’s Retail & Ecommerce committee.

The Changing Experience of Retail

Panellists: Joanne Brading – Head of Transformation, Virgin Money; Penny Bell – Co-Founder, IntoPlaces; and Bob May – Director, Turley.

Customers are starting to see going to a shop as a chore not a pleasure. Is that fair?

Joanne noted that only online spending only accounts for 18% nationally: the High Street is still the place to be. Even across Virgin Money clients – who have all been acquired digitally – only 38% of total spend, and 29% of retail spend, is online.

Bob and Penny agreed, making the case that town centres are about more than retail. Food and drink outlets, community spaces and experiences all have a role to play in encouraging people to spend more time and money in our centres. Every town and city centre is different. They should be proud of their heritage and culture, and it is key for planners to engage with communities to get development right.

Virgin Money has seen an increase in customers wanting to use digital channels. Since launching their new app in February log ins have already exceeded the website and call volume is coming down. This is great for the business as it incurs lower overheads but Joanne notes that it is important to still offer the full choice of service to customers.

Sian shared recent stats showing that for 62% of baby boomers and 58% of Gen Z going in to a store is first choice. Is there a formula for success?

Bob believes flexibility is key, along with offering a genuine mix. Historically, town centres included police stations, GPs, markets, homes and multiple opportunities for social interaction. We need to move back to this mixed use to get people back in to the centres. Penny agrees and attributes much of the Altrincham rejuvenation success to their landlord’s forum which encouraged multiple use. B Works is a great example of one traditional business (a bank) creating a mixed use site (coffee shop, retail, co-working, events etc). This is rare to see on the High Street but needs to become more common.

Are the retail giants changing fast enough? Are they planning for Gen Alpha not just Millennials and Gen Z?

Joanne reminded delegates that past success is no guarantee of future success. Retailers, and those connected to retail, must plan ahead. It is essential to understand where the gaps are and plan to meet those customer demands.

For Penny, omnichannel is key. For example, Altrincham had very high click & collect activity. They capitalised on that to work with the retailers and promoted town centre activity with stickers on packages.

Sian wrapped up the first panel noting that placemaking is not just about shopping and brands, but bringing people together.

Keeping up with Consumer Demands

Panellists: Rachel Beattie – Co-Founder, Careaux; Stuart Stiles – Head of Product Content and Site Optimisation, M&; Mike Ward – Head of Retail, Manchester Airport Group.

Sian kicked off by sharing the research that 60% millennials have relationships with brands for over 10 years and 80% are more likely to buy if the service is personalised.

Rachel developed Careaux by offering a bespoke service tailored per consumer. She could communicate directly either face to face, through social media or FaceTime. The challenge now is to maintain that level of service whilst scaling up the business.

Stuart is responsible for managing content for M& and is constantly balancing demands in the phygital era (physical/digital). Online customers need a fast loading site (this has halved in 12 months), confidence that clothes will fit (many buy three and return two) and an easy returns process (Simply Food stores now take returns). If customers have a bad experience at any stage they will go elsewhere. This can be an expensive area to invest in but it is crucial that photography is done right. It needs to both inspire the customer to buy and be an accurate factual representation of the item. Sometimes fixes are simpler, e.g. clearly showing dimensions of furniture on the product images.

As Head of Retail for Manchester Airport Group, Mike has a slightly different challenge in that he has very limited touch points with customer. Most will have booked online, checked in online and then progress through the security channels. Once in the terminal, transactions in retail and food & beverage outlets are curated with third parties. He notes there has been a big shift in how people spend time and money at the airport. Guests consume experience and food rather than products. They spend less time shopping and more time in bars and restaurants. The airport has a vested interest in the whole experience working well – not least because customers often first complain to the airport on social media rather than to the outlet itself. Mike therefore uses the available data to work with all parties to offer the best guest experience possible.

Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever before. How can retailers demonstrate sustainability? Does it impact profitability?

Careaux was founded with very clear values, including sustainability and body image. Rachel knew that 90% of women need different size top and bottom and that £13bn of clothes end up in landfill each year. Again, this is easier to address on bespoke pieces, the challenge is translating this to the online businesses. Rachel has a zero tolerance policy on photoshop and admits to being naïve regarding the tricks used within fashion photography (we’re looking at your bulldog clips ASOS…). She is determined to stay true to these values online and is working to change the website language to better suit the customer.

Mike agrees the subject is of huge importance generally and to the airport’s guests. They buy into sustainability despite the fact they are about to get on a plane. Sustainability is now a key part of scoring matrix for new units, with potential partners asked to demonstrate what they are doing to limit food miles, eliminate single use plastics and reduce food wastage. The airport has been able to collate all the ideas and initiatives, creating an art of the possible and helping everyone to meet higher standards.
100% of cotton in M&S is now sustainable, click & collect bags are now recyclable and all plastic will be recyclable by 2022. It is a hard job but one that is essential not just for the planet but to keep customers, particularly Gen Z. Sustainability will be the determining factor for retailers of the future. Rachel goes further stating it is her wish for sustainability to become the standard rather than a differentiator and is starting to see customers prepared to pay more to make that happen.

Collection of data is ramping up. How do customers feel about giving their postcodes and emails in store?

Stuart agrees it sounds intrusive but it is actually all about trying to join up online and offline channels so they can become more personalised and relevant. Knowing about your in store purchases means M& can serve more relevant content online. It is not data for data’s sake, but about using data for the right reasons.

As noted earlier, Mike has limited opportunities to access customer data directly so relies on anonymised data from retailers (who all scan boarding cards). This enables them to learn how spending habits correlate to destinations and to adapt the use of space in the terminals to suit.

What are your key takeaways for delegates?

Stuart: stores still have a future and are part of every retail story. It’s about putting stores in the right places and ensuring a good experience.

Rachel: don’t just follow trends; deliver value

Mike: customers are changing. Listen to what they want now rather than relying on a historic product model.

Sian brought the discussion to a close. She thanked delegates and reiterated that for the sector to succeed we must collaborate, meet and engage – which is exactly what pro-manchester is all about!

Don’t miss…

Digital Marketing Conference – 5th July, etc Venues

Retail & Hospitality for Every Generation – 12th July, B Works