Practicology Customer Conference 2017

7th February 2017

Retailers and consumer brands are welcome to join me at Practicology’s 23rd February half-day conference for insight on your most pressing digital challenges.

Domino’s CEO, Ted Baker’s Brand Communications Director, New Look’s ex-Ecommerce Director, TM Lewin’s Chief Customer Officer and Hitwise are among our confirmed speakers:


Investment rather than cost-cutting will help retailers navigate Brexit

man cycling through black cabs in london

I have given lots of thought around the implications of BREXIT for retail and the strategic options available to retailers.

The most obvious options are as follows:

  • Batten the down the hatches – Put your head in the sand
  • Play the holding game – Wait and see what happens
  • Hold your nerve on prices – Maintain margins
  • Aggressively look to increase market share

The recent dip in consumer confidence suggests that this will manifest itself with suppressed demand in the domestic market. For those retailers playing the holding game, this will reinforce their approach of waiting to see what happens.

History tells us that retailers and brands that adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ or ‘holding pattern’ are often the ones who suffer a sometimes rapid decline. Think Nokia, Woolworths, HMV, Blockbuster, Kodak, Borders, BHS, Comet, Game Group or Clinton Cards. Of course, some of these brands have been revived by reinventing their customer value propositions and operating models.

I worry that retailers who take the wait-and-see approach could be the next ones on the casualty list.



Engaging shoppers in the m-commerce world

20th January 2017
person using m-commerce

Retailers can prosper this year if they focus on the elements they can control, while running parallel streams of activity to drive their businesses forward.

It’s easy to become distracted in retail.

I’ve just returned from NRF’s Big Show in New York. From robots to artificial intelligence, Oculus Rift and virtual reality, one could easily lose perspective. (more…)


What Retailers Should Focus On In 2017

7th January 2017
retail forecast 2017 shopping

Despite Brexit and the increased cost of goods etc, I believe retailers can prosper this year. If they focus on the elements they can control, they should also be running parallel streams of activity to drive their businesses forward.

It’s easy to become distracted in retail. I’ve just returned from NRF’s Big Show in New York.

From robots to artificial intelligence, Oculus Rift and virtual reality, one could easily lose perspective.

Artificial intelligence

Saying that, there’s no question that artificial intelligence such as chatbots and virtual reality can be a leveler for pureplay retailers. It enables them to offer comparable, or even better, levels of service online than traditional multichannel retailers. This is very much in Shop Direct’s plans.

The above is being referred to as ‘conversational commerce’. The idea is that we’ll be served online by chat bots. How long before we are served in store by Pepper the Robot (she was also at NRF)?

So, what should retailers focus on?

Online revenue

At least 50% of retail sales are impacted by a mobile device. There are no excuses. Everyone needs a site that displays properly on all devices. Fail to optimise mobile, and your sales will decline.

We as retailers have oodles of online data that can be leveraged to help drive instore merchandising. This can lead to an uplift in conversion and average order values.

If you don’t yet have a single customer view, customers deserve to receive segmented and behaviour-driven communications based on what they bought or are interested in.

We need to stop thinking about the web purely in terms of incremental revenue. It drives a significant percentage of instore sales. It’s the most important marketing channel.

Somewhere between 50% and 60% of all retail sales start online; Google believes it will be 80% by 2020. This must be accounted for in the P&L to see the true value of your site, rather than only focusing on the cost to serve click-and-collect etc.

On that note, Amazon generate $8bn from sales of Prime subscriptions. Are other retailers missing the revenue opportunity from becoming a service provider?

With Amazon continually stepping up its game on range and service, retailers absolutely need to determine how they can add value. Saying that, I heard an amusing story this week from a friend in Seattle. When trying to return his Amazon Echo to Amazon’s book store, he was told they don’t accept online returns. Clearly no retailer is perfect.

Experiences, not things

Looking to the medium term, at NRF I heard that 53% of consumers prefer experiences to buying products. Even by 2020, most consumers will still prefer to complete purchases in stores. Therefore, retailers need to focus on delivering an engaging instore experience that helps to reinforce their brand purpose.

For example, consider mobile tills or digital ordering in the changing rooms, as these are two key areas of friction. Luxury brand Rebecca Minkoff has done the latter and seen a 30% uplift in sales as a result.

Customers respect transparency, and they like to engage. This year ask yourself what you can do to truly put customers first. Empower your colleagues to take friction away from the path to purchase, be that online or instore.


Corporate social responsibility as a marketing tool is outdated

1st September 2016
gap shop front

Gap’s ‘Red’ campaign is 10 years old. However, it’s unclear who buys heavily-branded products to support the retailer’s work fighting AIDS. The initiative has raised around $10 million for a noble cause, but with the latest set of products just launched I began to question whether corporate social responsibility activity such as Gap’s still hits the mark with consumers.


Should retailers engage in this type of corporate social responsibility? Is there a bigger opportunity for more strategic social responsibility initiatives, in which consumers feel they are playing a more meaningful role?


Being customer-centric

Putting the customer first is a key requirement to be successful in retail. There are a number of drivers for achieving this: convenience, range, price, service and engagement, through customer communications and loyalty initiatives.

However, one of the biggest opportunities is also one of the least used: social responsibility and leveraging your community for the greater good.

To support customers to be socially responsible, a brand needs to act strategically rather than run a once-a-year campaign with branded products and a hashtag.

Brands including US fashion retailer Zady, footwear specialist Toms and eyewear brand Warby Parker have all recognised the power of creating business strategies and cultures around the community giving something back.

Toms and Warby Parker both promote the fact that for every pair of shoes or glasses purchased respectively, they give away a free pair to those in need. By buying from Toms, or encouraging friends to do so, consumers are actively supporting a cause.

However, they are also buying a product that is desirable in its own right, so Toms is making it easy for consumers to demonstrate their social credentials.

Zady positions itself as a lifestyle destination for charity-conscious consumers.

Magrabi, the Middle East and North Africa’s leading optical chain, goes even further. While it doesn’t seek to take advantage of the marketing opportunity of promoting what it does, it is working to try to cure blindness in Cameroon and other countries.

All of these approaches are less about logos and making the brand look good through a single campaign. The focus is more about making consumers feel empowered to make socially conscious buying decisions by developing a relationship with that brand.


Adapting to changing trends

This approach can resonate for many consumers, but particularly millennials. They will Instagram or Snapchat pictures of their latest pair of Toms, because they look great and because they know they’ve bought a child in a developing country a new pair of shoes to wear too.

I’m not convinced that the latest products in Gap’s ‘Red’ range – mostly basics that are heavily logoed – really hit the mark in the same way.

When Gap talks of raising so much money for the cause, or asking customers to use its #endAIDS hashtag, it’s talking about itself as a business raising the money or ending AIDS. There’s no mention of what its customers have achieved.

Corporate social responsibility when used as a blunt marketing tool looks quite outdated, and does not appear to be very effective.

But brands that appear to put the responsibility into the hands of their consumers can create engaged and loyal audiences who are also more likely to become valuable customers over the longer term.


Retail multichannel inspiration during Practicology conference

13th July 2016
martin retailers multichannel retail

Martin speaks about retail multichannel inspiration at the 2016 Practicology conference.


One thing Martin emphasizes is that there is no one golden path to multichannel success. Rather, a brand must weave together a comprehensive multichannel experience.

The power no longer sits with the retailer. The advent of the internet and more advanced technology means that the customer has more choice and power than ever before. The onus is now on the retailer to make each customer journey as seamless and hassle-free as possible.  Martin brings in examples from Target, Doddle and as retailers who are going above and beyond with their customer propositions.

Practicology created ‘The Customer Mix‘ as a response to ‘The Four Ps’ of marketing; a new tool to help not just with customer acquisition but with customer retention. As Martin says, “Once someone’s given us their hard-earned cash, what are we doing to get them to come back to us?”


Why stores are becoming more important in a digital world

26th May 2016
clothes hanging in minimalist stores

In an increasingly digital world, retailers are asking themselves what future role their stores can play in order to stay relevant to customers.


Online vs Offline

Many have predicted the demise of the store, but I’d argue it’s actually taken on more importance. Customers in increasing numbers choose click and collect as a fulfillment method; and continue to research online, but purchase offline, too.

Online can be a threat to stores, but digital also provides the potential for retailers to operate smaller stores, reduce operating costs and still deliver a good customer experience.

Sephora has opened a smaller footprint format combining an edited in-store range with virtual shopping baskets; allowing ordering from a broader online catalogue for collection or delivery. In the UK, House of Fraser has done something similar, trialling small footprint order points.

Whatever your plans for stores and leveraging digital, my advice is to always start with the customer. Work backwards to determine what experience is relevant, in the context of your brand and product category.

The role of the store will certainly change. It will become much more about experience and true retail theatre. The store environment will seek to entertain, educate and engage. I can’t resist a good three-letter acronym, so you might call it the 3Es of instore.


Digital Technology in Stores

Another way to think about how to leverage in-store digital technology is in terms of customer acquisition, conversion and retention. Digital can help to pull more customers into the store environment, convert more than ever before and also capture their data and attention in order to drive retention.

While still not that widely adopted by retailers, it seems fairly obvious that certain digital technologies will become ubiquitous over time. In particular the mobile till, which for some retailers will also be used for clienteling so store colleagues can provide relevant personalised customer experiences.


Digital Points of Sale

While Apple was the disruptor in this sense, a number of brands have designed stores with no fixed electronic point of sale. Victoria Beckham being just one.

Removing fixed EPOS takes a barrier away and encourages customers to engage with store colleagues using iPads and other mobile devices. This in turn provides opportunities for cross selling, better engagement and data capture. As well as creating more selling space.

Mobile tills also lend themselves to offering customers e-receipts. And e-receipts help retailers to overcome the age-old issue of how to capture customer data instore.

Changing room technology

In the changing room digital technology can be leveraged very effectively. Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff has been an early adopter of digital technology in changing rooms. It allows customers to digitally request other sizes or styles to try on, and complete purchases while still in the changing room too.

The jury has been out on iBeacons. In my opinion, proximity-led marketing will become far more prevalent and used for customer acquisition, by pinging offers to customers near a store as well as recognising in-store customer behavior and dwell time and targeting customers with personalised offers.

So stores aren’t going anywhere soon as retail theatre and digital innovation only makes them more relevant. After all, Amazon is opening hundreds of bookstores for a reason. Who would have imagined this a couple of years ago when everyone thought bookstores were a dying entity?