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Trust, tech, and transformation: key takeaways from Babel’s Retail webinar

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, it goes without saying that retailers are facing an unprecedented challenge. And for many, this challenge has proved insurmountable – tragically one in eight of the shops forced to close due to the pandemic has failed to reopen.

But despite this bleak landscape, it is still possible for retailers to thrive if they embrace agility, creativity, and technology. This is according to Babel’s panel of retail tech experts, who came together to discuss the challenges facing the industry, and how it can avoid a nightmare before Christmas.

Joining the discussion were Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers’ Association, Alex Sword, Editor of leading B2B publications Internet Retailing and eDelivery, Courtney Roe, Head of Global Content Strategy for Digital Asset Management specialist Widen, and Steve Williamson, General Manager EMEA for digital experience company Acquia. The conversation was hosted by Babel’s Simon Coughlin, who highlighted the plight facing retailers and the “rollercoaster” year they’ve had thanks to a double lockdown and summer sales spikes.

“A short time to make a positive impression”

Central to the conversation was just how intrinsic technology has become for retailers looking to adapt to the new normal. Internet Retailing’s Alex Sword noted that the real winners in the age of COVID have been those retailers that have the infrastructure to profitably sell online, such as Amazon, ASOS, and Boohoo.  He stressed how profitability from online sales can be elusive for many brands due to restrictive shipping costs, however it is still possible for newer entrants to quickly adapt business models and succeed, as Morrisons has done by offering food boxes. For vendors who can support retailers in this transformation, there are clear opportunities to be grabbed. Drawing on the example of Shopify, Sword talked about how the ecommerce specialist had been able to capitalise on the online boom by helping retailers quickly build out their online presence.

For digital asset management specialist Widen, customers are increasingly leveraging technology, for purposes other than just enhancing their online offerings. “More companies are using our solutions to provide employees with up-to-date information, and help keep them safe,” observed Courtney Roe.

However, for independent retailers, adopting technology can prove challenging, commented Andrew Goodacre. “Independents can be agile, but don’t always have the resources or skills in place,” he stated, before adding that if companies don’t have the capabilities in house, they should seek independent advice – and quickly. “Retailers have a very short time to make a positive impression in the run-up to Christmas.”

Engagement is everything

One area where smaller brands can differentiate themselves is through social media channels, Goodacre observed. “Businesses are thinking more carefully about content, and seeing that people do listen and take note, and then they get a bit braver.” He added that retailers were embracing Zoom fashion shows and wine tasting, and using online channels as a means to engage with their local community. In these instances, adapting messaging to suit the individual platform, while maintaining overall consistency, is critical. “Now is the time for brands to get creative”, Roe added. “Find new ways of serving up content across all your channels.”

When it comes to engagement, trust and transparency are paramount. “Creating a good customer experience is all about doing what you say you’ll do,” observed Willamson. And if your brand doesn’t deliver on expectations? Use the data insights at your disposal to turn a negative experience into a positive one, argued Sword. For example, offering a voucher to compensate for an issue can be great, but it should be tailored to the customer’s individual requirements.

In the event of negative reviews, Goodacre’s recommendation is to engage not ignore. “I advise businesses to respond to every complaint they have,” he stated, and stressed the importance of being honest “If you’ve got it wrong, admit it.” To tackle the issue head-on, he advised businesses to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and think about what they want to hear – which is the solution.

This was echoed by Williamson, who stressed the importance of human engagement with technology, and the need for brands to understand how customers are experiencing their tech. “The way people are buying and engaging has changed fundamentally, forever. To thrive, you have to be at the forefront of that change.”

Digitise or die

One key area where change is imminent is in ecommerce. A poll conducted during the discussion revealed that some 86% of attendees felt retailers without an ecommerce offering couldn’t survive. Which, although bleak, was accepted by all panellists as a reality of our current climate. However, as Sword noted, “there is no better time than now to make changes.” For brands that have been able to adapt, pivot and transform, it is possible to thrive even in this climate. And with the right approach to messaging, the right digital strategy, and adoption of technology, retailers can avoid a nightmare before Christmas.

To discuss how your retail tech brand can engage key stakeholders in the run-up to Christmas and beyond please do get in touch.

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