High Streets Initiative 9 August 2018

Why physical picks beat virtual kicks in today’s chaotic retail landscape

Amazon Go
Amazon’s Go stores were conceived in response to the limitations of ecommerce

We are living in an era of unprecedented change. One-by-one retail behemoths are faltering and falling. House of Fraser, Toys R Us, Maplin: the list of 2018’s casualties lengthens month-by-month. The high street is in chaos. Media is fragmenting at pace. Millennials are ambivalent about marketing, writes Nick Gray, managing director at Live & Breathe.

So, what the hell do we do?

Against this backdrop brands, marketers and agencies will only thrive if they refocus on sales. Unless people are buying, all attempts at retail salvation are just shots in the dark. We must all scrutinise how every piece of activity, and every pound spent, is helping drive sales. The traditional binary distinction between brand building (above the line) and sales conversion (below the line), is both naïve and expensive in our ultra-competitive and hyper-connected era.

The internet is the best thing since sliced bread for many brands. It’s a place to create, play and shine. But that ignores the fact that time-pressed consumers often just want to buy and get on with their busy lives. And before they buy, they still want to try. Take consumer tech: we need to touch and feel before we splash out, sometimes to the tune of hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Our new consumer survey shed light on the question of what people think about marketing, and how they want to be sold to, and brands need to take note.

They’re not as driven by digital as brands might think, and certainly not stuck on mobile-based sales. Nearly half of consumers buy on the strength of recommendations from family and friends. Just 4% are influenced by so-called “influencers”.

Read more on the current state of UK high streets:

Furthermore, despite hearing much about mobile storefronts and reaching people via the phone in their pocket only 5% of consumers rate themselves very likely to buy after encountering mobile advertising, while push SMS was ruled the least effective tactic.

Even the mighty Amazon has cottoned on. It’s opening Go stores in recognition that ecommerce has a ceiling. 11% of respondents said they will spend less time buying from Amazon in the next 12 months, a higher figure than those who claimed they’d decrease visits to supermarkets (7%). Other pure-play brands, such as Depop, are following suit and taking to the high street, a trend we expect to continue.

So, experience and engagement is the new battleground for retailers. They’ll only return a profit from their expensive estates if they treat stores as a subtle blend of showroom and sales space.

This gives brands the opportunity to create a space for them to breathe where store staff can advise, build trust, show and sell. In a digitally obsessed world, brands can overlook the subtle power of experience to drive a sale.

Consumers ranked brand experience as the third most powerful reason to buy, behind free samples and discounts. Interestingly, more than one-in-five rated product trial and demonstration as their key influence, meaning this should not be shunned by retailers either.

Other key findings

  1. Optimism versus opulence

Only 8% of 16- to 24-year-olds are totally turned off by marketing. The right messages will encourage them to buy. Millennials are most likely to increase shopping visits to almost every type of outlet: discounters (31%), shopping centres (31%), online grocers (28%), Amazon (40%) and even out-of-town specialists like DIY stores (19%). Whether they have money to spend is a different matter…

  1. High street saviours?

Millennials’ insatiable interest in shopping could be just the tonic high-street stores need. 22% are set to increase visits to independent retailers (compared to just 3% of consumers aged 55-plus), 19% to high street convenience stores (versus 6%) and 25% to casual dining chains (against 4%).

  1. Free at lunch

Lunchtime browsing, online or in-store, is a favourite pastime for a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds. They’re more receptive to marketing messages at this time than people aged 25 to 44 (18%) and 45+ (12%). Brands need to know the best times to reach out with sales comms.

What does this mean?

Be it in-store or online, these stats show that brands must do a better job of connecting comms throughout the sales funnel.

As technology links up the retail landscape, in theory making a sale quicker and simpler, it’s vital for marketers to think of their brand ads and activation in a more joined-up manner. Big TV spots alone no longer drive volume; social media isn’t yet sustaining brands; and in-store, while powerful, can’t do a proper job without dovetailing to comms outside the retail environment.

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changing high streets

 

How small businesses are bringing the British high street back from the brink

Michelle Ovens offers her assessment of the challenges facing high streets across Britain and looks at how independent retailers are bringing prosperity back to towns.

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