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Even as recent as two decades back, the retail space was still very much focused on in-store retailing, while the banking sector continued to focus on branch banking. Online transactions were far from mainstream, and having an online presence on the marketplace was an afterthought for most retailers. However, this all changed less than a decade back. The rapid shift to online shopping of has been the biggest trend I’ve seen in the retail space in my 25-year career in the customer and marketing analytics field. While this trend might have gradually caught up in due course, the internet-equipped ubiquitous mobile phone in literally everyone’s pocket has accelerated this shift to online, and in turn revolutionized the way people interact with retail.
Amid these, the biggest challenge is always on attracting the most eyes to your brand. In the older days, this meant having a prominent store positioned on a high street. In the era when television was the most prominent medium of advertisement, QVC paid to have a high place on TV program guides. And now, in the new world where people have the whole internet to explore, we have to try as many new ways we can to grab the maximum eyeballs and match our online retail activity with what our customers are seeking for their online shopping experience. So, when we send them push notifications about our products, or when we broadcast something about our offers on air, it has to be at the right time for them to be receptive toward the offerings.
A New Direction In Today’s Retail
Speaking of trends, the most obvious and recent one we witnessed at QVC was a shift in product demand during the pandemic. Apparel and jewelry recorded an immediate drop, while demand for our home and garden products increased by a huge margin. Not being a traditional departmental store with a rigid product collection model, we were able to shift our product mix rapidly and expand the home and gardening range in response to the changing customer demands. Also, we kept our gardening products and offers in the spotlight by giving them more air time. This enabled us to capitalize well on our customers’ needs by making the products they want easily accessible to them.
Incidentally, we were also able to expand our reach into wider and more receptive audience through the pandemic. We saw a huge surge of customer interest – from both existing and newer clientele – in QVC and our brand offerings online, as most of the high street brick-and-mortar shops witnessed a massive dip in footfall due to lockdowns. To cater to them, we sought our most valuable tech media tools – the humble TV and the new-age mobile phone. As a video commerce retailer, we broadcast our products on live TV for 19 hours a day, 364 days a year across the UK. The mobile phone is also critical for us as a retailer with a mobile app, where we upload enriching video content aimed at inspiring people, in addition to making them aware of our offerings and spark their interest in our product range.
Journey To Enhance Customer Connect
Many moons ago, during my time at Sainsbury’s, we built a statistical model for customer segmentation to gain better insights into our customers’ diverse shopping habits. The model showed that around 48 percent of customers visited the same store on the same day every week and bought the same items. The insights we gained was that for this customer group, the most important factor for brand loyalty was the availability of the items whenever they walked into the stores.
"AS A VIDEOCOMMERCE RETAILER, WE BROADCAST OUR PRODUCTS ON LIVE TV FOR19 HOURS A DAY, 364 DAYS A YEAR ACROSS THE UK"
Today, we leverage a similar customer segmentation model at QVC, where we always link our marketing with our customer insights. We talk extensively with our customers about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in interactions with our offerings. From the insights gained from these talks, we give them relevant, top-notch marketing insights and good brand content. This also confers the added advantage for retailers to understand their customer base better, albeit propelled by excellent customer segmentation work aided by data analytics. A strong link between customer insights and marketing area is absolutely critical for driving business and translates into enhanced customer experience. This in turn helps retail personnel engage and connect better with the shoppers, who tend to come from vastly different backgrounds, interests, and life stages.
The Retail Space Of Tomorrow
As for the future of retail, we are entering a very interesting space with a trend that relates to an integrated approach to shopping and leisure. Now, shopping in person is going to be about leisure, while all practical shopping will be done online. The most successful retailers of tomorrow will be those who can contribute to making shopping a leisure experience. Cue novelties like in-store theater or in-store demonstrations that are set to become commonplace eventually for brick-and-mortar stores. For instance, IKEA has set up a shop at Oxford Circus and is gradually moving into city centers to attract customers during their casual outings. The IKEA folks have stated that while people don’t necessarily tend to merely walk around the store all weekend, they might just drop in to buy a few things that catch their fancy while out in town spending leisure time. This is probably the biggest trend that I see happening in retail over the next five years, possibly even sooner.
Advice To Budding Retail Aficionados
With my background in data analytics, I would say there’s been an explosion in the number of technologies out there. One could never become an expert in every data visualization tool and every programming language in use. So, from a technology point of view, my advice will be to learn SQL, the fundamental in data analytics, and pick a couple of tools and languages,and become experts in them. And from a retail angle, I would say – at the risk of sounding like a cliché – that retail personnel need to be as close to their customer as possible to know their likes and preferences inside out. This is important because what you think will be great may not necessarily resonate with the customers. So, you’ll constantly need to test and learn their ways to find out what customer engagement strategy is relevant, what works or doesn’t work, why, and for whom.