The retail industry's most pressing challenges answered

7 March 2013

Barry Moles

Barry Moles


At Retail Week Live, industry players will be discussing a range of complex issues, from how to drive profitability and international expansion to using mobile technologies to engage customers. On the conference website, the event organisers posted a number of key themes that will be discussed amongst attendees. 

I have shared my thoughts on what retailers should do to succeed in a digital age. 

Drive profits and market share in the new retail landscape

Innovation through differentiation is a key component to success. Retailers cannot afford to simply carry on doing what they did yesterday - yesterdays consumer is different to today's and will be even more different to tomorrow's. What they do have in common is the need to shop. However, with so much choice (online and offline), the question is where. Consumers are savvier and more demanding than ever before, and are placing more emphasis on value. Retailers that really understand their customers (what they want, when they want it and how much they are willing to pay) and respond by developing an agile, customer-centric business strategy, will be better equipped to differentiate themselves and succeed in the next phase of retail evolution.

Assess retail's economic future as we move from austerity to growth

Despite today's challenges, the future of retail is opportunity-fuelled and exciting with so many consumers looking around for new shopping avenues.  However, growth will come from non-traditional channels such helping customers shop using mobile handsets.  Retailers that will outperform peers are already investing in new technologies including smarter ways to fuse insight into customers with big data to obtain a single, real-time view of consumer trends. 

Future proof your business by understanding how retail will be transformed

It's all about consumer insight, consumer insight and more consumer insight. Access to, and analysis of, quality customer data is key to success. Retailers must tap into, and exploit, the massive amounts of customer data they already have in order to make timely, strategic business decisions and effectively target customers. Having the right systems in place to enable the effective analysis of structured and unstructured information from multiple sources is imperative for retailers to future-proof their business.

Convert more customers through Omni channel strategy and single customer view

Whilst many retailers offer a physical and digital shopping experience, they struggle to be unified in the way they serve customers through these channels and in the way they calculate revenue. Currently, many retailers assess and measure revenue from a channel perspective rather than taking a single customer view analysis which will give marketers the right insight to make smarter, more strategic decisions.

Retailers must create an integrated brand customer experience, irrespective of touch point. They also need to rethink the way they calculate revenue. A changed approach on both counts will enable them to not only convert shoppers into loyal customers, but radically accelerate and improve basket revenue. 

Prepare for the future of multichannel by integrating the latest research findings into your strategy

The latest research is clear; whilst retailers need fewer stores, they need to sell through more channels and deliver a far more exciting and targeted customer experience. That's the easy part. The challenge is the "how?"

Retailers must act fast to analyse trends before they become historic. On the one hand retailers are leading the market in collecting data but on the other, they are failing to make sense of it all to formulate the right customer-centric business strategy and give shoppers what they want, when they want it. It is imperative that retailers take a strategic and intelligent approach to a combination of data analysis from multiple sources and predictive analytics.

Win the digital race by attracting, inspiring and nurturing tomorrow's retail talent

Finding (and retaining) the right talent is an ongoing struggle. The saying "It's not what you do it's how you are perceived" rings true. The current perception of retail is bleak - a volatile economy, store closures, high staff turnovers, redundancies, long hours, varying seasonal demands and higher customer expectations - not a rosy picture.

Whilst financial rewards and incentives, training and development and brand affiliation remain important, retailers must utilise technology to develop their workforce and their employer brand. On the one hand, new technology-driven Omni retail channels can provide exciting career opportunities and on the other, it can be used to significantly improve the HR and people management processes that are integral to attracting and retaining talent, identifying and promoting talent from within, and nurturing and developing tomorrow's retail leaders.

Exploit international growth opportunities expansion, localisation and partnership strategies

Some UK retailers have successfully entered and grown in international markets such as in Central and Eastern Europe. They have done so by exploiting hard-earned competitive differentiators built in the UK including lean supply chains, strategic partners and clever marketing.   Other retailers should take lessons from overseas, and bring fresh ideas back into the UK that will keep their brands fresh and relevant with consumers always looking for something new and exciting, be it offered in-store, online or via phones.

An example of a beneficial partnership lies in Orange (French) and T-Mobile (German). In 2009 they merged their UK businesses to form EE.  The move was designed to not only deliver cost saving efficiencies but benefits to consumers in terms of better network coverage and improved customer services.

Create a seamless shopping experience that delights your customers

Today's consumers expect a cross-channel shopping experience that is seamless, engaging and personalised. They want value, flexibility, convenience, satisfaction and product knowledge...and they want it instantly. Retailers respond to these customers expectations by:  

  • Notifying customers on product availability and promotions that are targeted to their needs
  • Developing engaging and user-friendly mobile apps
  • Enabling the ease and speed of mobile purchasing 
  • Offering customers the convenience and flexibility to start and finish shopping (and refund) across multiple touch points and locations
  • Enabling access to real-time updates on order and shipment status and delivery expectations  

These no-longer-can-be-options are fundamental to future success. Otherwise, shoppers will simply go elsewhere.  

Combat the economic downturn using effective retail leadership

Challenging times create new opportunities. The retail industry is witnessing a renaissance of innovation brought on by leaders open to new ideas.   These 'visionaries' have quickly assumed senior roles within organisations. They are also the ones that have, during the downturn, invested in people, changing mindsets so all efforts are focused on the customer.  In doing so, this new class of retail leadership will continue to embrace cutting-edge technologies and new ways of operating that will show results in earning calls. 

Drive sales using the latest mobile retailing and payment technology

Mobile applications are the future, today. Retailers have to move away from one dimensional on-point-of-sale solutions and embrace timely adoption and integration of new mobile technologies by developing apps that are user-friendly, engaging and make shopping as easy as "click and collect".  Whilst mobile payments won't take off immediately (the UK is still using cash more than most of the industrialised world), retailers must plan for its increased adoption now.

Refine your property strategy to get the most from your stores

The rise of online shopping has apparently made "brick and mortar" stores obsolete.  This is far from the truth. Instead, forward-looking retail executives view stores as a competitive differentiator that helps build customer loyalty. Retailers will be required to find new non-traditional partners which, together, by offering new services, will not only enhance the customer experience but generate revenue streams by keeping them in-store longer.  

Future proof your digital strategy whilst reducing costs and risk

Part and parcel of this includes a future-proof digital strategy that is innovative and agile. With this, retailers will be better equipped to respond faster to market changes, turning perceived challenges into opportunities.   Retailers need to have a digital strategy that crosses all channels. This is no longer a nice to have, but rather an essential strategic investment that will pay dividends later.  The only other option is to devolve into a retail dinosaur.

Engage customers through integrating digital technologies into your bricks and mortar stores

New, cutting-edge technologies should be integrated into bricks and mortar stores in order to enhance the shopping experience for customers. Considering the vast majority of customers research products online nowadays, high street stores are primarily serving as a pick-up or customer service destination.  Retailers can create customer loyalty by identifying how shoppers interact with the brand, creating memorable experiences based on the technologies they are using such as smart phones such as 'click and collect' services.

Drive customer loyalty through a clearer understanding of the consumer and their steps to purchase

Successful retailers exploit data in order to better understand and anticipate customer shopping wants and needs.  Central here is access to real-time customer intelligence, such as knowing when customers browse online (morning, afternoon or evening?) vs. in-store foot traffic trends and why.  Customer loyalty will be won by giving the consumer a shopping experience that exceeds expectations. This is only possible if retailers use data to offer a personalised shopping experience.  An example is Amazon emailing customers, offering potential future purchase opportunities based upon their browsing history and previous purchases.


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About the author

Barry Moles


I am a retail expert, having spent more than 20 years in numerous managerial and operational roles including merchandise, supply chain, finance and marketing.

I bring a unique hands-on perspective to advising clients having worked in every retail category (food, electrical, clothing, telecoms, pharmacy, charity) across all consumer channels (out of town, online, shopping centres, department stores, concessions and outlet villages) for major retailers in the United Kingdom.

My passion, amongst many hot topics facing retailers, is helping senior executives and their teams plan and run omni-channel retail strategies.

When I am not with a client, I can either be found on the high street or travelling the world with my family.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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