Following another year of turbulence, it’s no surprise there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the retail industry. Supply chain issues and pandemic-related shortages continue to impact retailers worldwide, while the ever-accelerating shift to online shopping has left gaps in the high street – with House of Fraser the latest big name to announce it is closing its Oxford Street store in January.
Despite this, there are some bright shoots of recovery. Estimates of a 4.2% uplift in UK retail sales this year point to plenty of opportunities for firms to harness — with a further eight in 10 CEOs already looking forward to bigger gains in 2022.
Although the journey to full recovery won’t be smooth, there is scope for retailers to expand reach and revenues in the new shopping landscape, as long as they keep adapting.
The question is: what does that mean for the year ahead?
Seasonal spirits are running high
Brands are more determined than ever to go big this holiday season. Go-getting campaigns from the likes of Tesco have been answered by consumers embracing the festive spirit and showing not only rising confidence but also greater spending intent.
Dave Randall, Commercial Director at Future plc, says the media group’s recent research confirms this positivity: “Over three-quarters of Future’s readers say they saved money between June and September, contributing to the nearly £200bn saved by UK consumers in lockdown. The majority of this cash is still in the bank, with many consumers looking to splurge during the holiday season.”
With the pandemic accelerating e-commerce’s rise further, it’s likely this extra cash will flow through these channels. As many as one in three Brits will only make digital purchases, a trend Randall says is mirrored by Future’s findings.
Randall feels that these findings mean it is crucial for businesses to focus equal attention on driving engagement across multiple environments this Christmas. Reaching customers should be about more than just offering products through e-commerce, and brands should be looking towards reaching digital users in relevant premium environments through ad placements and affiliate links.
“We’ve also seen a 13% increase in shoppers looking for inspiration online, providing a valuable targeting opportunity that publishers must tap into,” Randall adds. “To take full advantage of this, publishers must attract online shoppers across broader platforms. For retailers, it’s crucial they choose their partners wisely, especially with the unique challenges being faced this year.”
Key among those unique challenges is, of course, the continually evolving supply chain problems.
How smart tech can solve supply woes
With disruptions causing an estimated £5 billion in losses, it’s unsurprising that supply chain issues are a major cause of concern for three-quarters of UK retailers.
“UK retailers will need to work extra hard to bring the usual festive cheer this year,” asserts Lucas Irving, Head of Solutions, EMEA, Berkshire Grey. “While consumer demand is at a high, supply chain struggles are hampering brands’ abilities to deliver physical products into the hands of shoppers. At the heart of the problem is staff shortages, exacerbated by the ongoing health crisis and Brexit uncertainty. Retailers are faced with a lack of warehouse workers, forklift drivers and other key roles central to addressing the seasonal surge in online shopping.”
Technology could however provide a lifeline to retailers – both in the short and long term. Randall highlights that Future, along with other sites offering promotional placements, are “fully equipped to adapt to potential stock shortages – through technology that recognises when certain items become available or go out of stock – [which] will be crucial and can help link consumers with the retailers that have their desired product available.”
Smart tech isn’t just limited to dynamic adjustments. Future also uses Hawk, a tech solution that creates “accurate and up to date Buying Guides and Deals content, allowing our readers to find the best bargains. Moreover, our SEO authority enables us to target consumers who are searching for specific products and position our brands as the best place to buy what they’re looking for, whether that be in Tech, Home, Music, Fashion or Sport.”
Meanwhile, Irving feels there is room for intelligent machines to play an even bigger part in easing supply chain issues and transforming the retail future: “While the situation may be frustrating, the solution is not entirely out of reach for retailers. Staff shortages should be addressed by supplementing workforces with AI-powered robots in areas such as warehouses where many tasks can be intelligently automated and, as a result, carried out safely and efficiently for 24-hours a day.”
Fast action will be needed if these benefits are to be felt however, he advises: “The supply chain crisis won’t be over anytime soon, so it’s important that retailers act now to ensure they’re in the strongest position possible for when the golden quarter comes around in 2022.”
Future-proofing omnichannel connections
Embracing new mediums and keeping up with changing consumer behaviours will help retailers to maintain strong connections throughout shopper journeys – and cut through the noise of a busy market.
Lucy Hinton, Head of Client Operations, Flashtalking by Mediaocean explains: “Retailers are operating in an overcrowded and competitive marketplace, and consumers continue to engage with and are persuaded by increasingly tailored content across a wide range of touchpoints – with new video mediums like CTV and TikTok driving huge engagement levels.”
Hinton also notes the necessity for a sharper focus on the efficient and secure use of data, supported by the right tools and expertise: “To generate the cut-through needed to make a valuable impact, retailers must fully understand their own first-party data and use it to educate their cross-channel marketing activities. Implementing an omnichannel strategy will ensure the seamless and efficient delivery of personalised and highly relevant ad content with consistent messaging across each environment a consumer chooses to spend time.”
Never standing still
The landscape is still shifting. Retailers will need to continue to be versatile as, invariably, more challenges are thrown their way. Simply rolling with the rise of e-commerce and digital is not enough, however – retailers should be looking to tap into tech innovations and use them to support greater growth and efficiency, paving the way for gains well into 2022 and beyond.