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How retailers need to transform for growth and building post COVID-19 digital resilience.

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Earlier this month, the Retail Bulletin brought together a panel of industry experts to discuss the issue of Retail Digital Transformation.

The longer-term challenges facing brands and retailers have been compounded by the pandemic and, as one comment summarized, "Some retailers weren’t ready for it. Some still aren’t ready for it." With an eye on the emerging, post-Covid landscape, host Darren Williams asked the panel to share their expertise on how retailers can meet consumer expectations in the new Effortless Economy. 

Aaron Chatterley is founder of beauty products company Feelunique. "Everything has moved and shifted; especially customer expectations," explained Aaron. An absolute focus on what the company does best, and an ability to be agile whatever the company size, were both critical to success, in Aaron’s view. “Openness to change in all aspects of business is essential – and not just because of Covid,” explained Aaron.

One company that has thrived during this period of dramatic disruption is Secret Sales. The company provides an alternative channel for fashion retailers to sell overstock at a discount without detracting from their brand. The company has grown 4000% in the last 12 months. ‘ The pandemic has accelerated change by several years,'' said director Dan Ashcroft. He described the challenges and opportunities facing traditional brick-and-mortar retailers in developing a multichannel approach. ‘As the online shopping experience has improved, such as with personal shoppers, many customers will not switch back to offline post Covid,’ explained Dan.

Linnworks CEO Callum Campbell was also a panel expert and explained his own view on how companies can build for long-term success.

"Traditional retailers are re-evaluating their business model," observed Callum. "In doing so, companies are facing a number of possible options, such as going direct to the consumer, establishing marketplaces, becoming their own brand or making a shift towards virtual inventory. Going direct to the shopper can be particularly appealing to brands and retailers, with the possibility to understand the customer better and gain more margin too."

The marketplace model has been growing for several years. "90% of searches now start on marketplaces such as Amazon," explained Callum. "It’s compelling from the consumer’s perspective, with such a breadth of choice on offer." And the power of marketplaces are set to expand further in the coming years too, thanks to a flywheel effect – the more traffic a market place gets, the better the understanding of the customer and the more that insight can be used to drive the supplied side of product.

A central feature of the Effortless Economy is that commerce is moving closer to the consumer. "Commerce comes to us, wherever we’re spending our time. We don’t have to leave the home anymore," said Callum. That means brands and retailers have to sell in lots of different environments – social, website, bricks & mortar, marketplace. The challenge for retailers in this landscape is to address how they can get their product in front of the customer wherever they choose to shop and provide them with a brilliant and frictionless experience.

“Online and bricks and mortar are so totally different that they’re almost different businesses, but there is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both,” said Aaron, whose company Feelunique operates boutiques and salons as well as online. The richer and deeper relationship with the customer that can be developed through these multiple touchpoints can then be used to tailor the experience to the individual customer’s needs.

"It’s not just about collecting data; it’s also providing data to customers, such as sizing," explained Dan of Secret Sales. "This enables the shopper to make better and more well-informed decision."

Callum agreed that knowing, understanding and delivering on the customer’s expectation was the key to competitive advantage in the Effortless Economy. As brands and retailers reconfigure the data, the processes, and the expertise they need to grow profitably in the future, that focus on customer insight needs to be maintained throughout. "That informs your growth strategy, automation, technology investment and operations," said Callum. "If you get the Effortless Economy right then the rest will follow."

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