Earlier this month we were asked to speak to retail members of the NAJ (National Association of Jewellers) at their annual conference in the Midlands.
The pandemic put enormous pressure on many luxury retail businesses. Those retailers that survived, did so due to the health of their balance sheets prior to the crisis, their operational resilience (including their digital capabilities) and the agility of their supply chains.
After such a challenging couple of years it was great for jewellery retailers to come together again, to share experiences, discuss best practice strategies, and to step back and think about the future of their businesses.
Our seminar - part of the NAJ’s ‘Better Business’ strategy to help shape professional excellence in the jewellery sector - focussed on how retail jewellers can make the most of their bricks and mortar stores to future-proof their physical businesses. Fundamentally, it was a presentation about the value of and need for brand building in retail.
“Mediocrity is out the window. The retail businesses that will survive are the ones with a deeper connection to their customers.” Mary Portas, writing in the FT in 2020
Happily, retail jewellers tend to understand the importance of connecting to their customers because frequently, the foundation of their businesses is built on great long-term relationships with customers. So, the concept of a ‘customer-centric’ experience in terms of ‘service’ is generally well understood. However, customer-centric retail relies on more than just great service - take a look at Forbes recent top 100 most customer-centric companies for some superb examples.
Award winning jewellery designer, Dinny Hall, nicely expresses the value of customer-centric retail for her sector when she says:
“We are face-to-face with customers every day, sharing our passion for what we do. That passionate exchange is really exciting and results in both feedback and sales. We are learning all the time from our interactions with customers and we make sure we are actively listening and open to ideas that will improve their experience as well as the business.”
As retail designers, it’s our job to help retailers like Dinny Hall reflect that ‘passion’ she describes in the retail brand space – both in store and digitally. Often this requires taking retailers on a journey of rediscovery. What is their passion? What is it that they do well and that customers value most? And what is it that they do less well and need to learn from?
Listening and responding to our clients and their customers at the start of a project, provides us with the vital key to unlock the brand design process. It’s a responsive, customer-centric design process that ensures we design the right retail experience and achieve great commercial results for our clients.
Above: Wakefields Jewellers VIP room
Luxury jewellery and watch retailers were hugely challenged when their stores were forced to close. However, the pandemic offered up a range of important lessons to be learned and embedded into retail strategies moving forwards. Retailers realised the importance of having a digital presence and found new ways to maintain their close relationships with customers in a ‘virtual’ world. Now that their stores have reopened and footfall has returned, they can see that some of the new practices they introduced during lockdown are still valued by customers.
Bricks-and-mortar stores remain vital to jewellery and watch retailers – they are the beating hearts at the centre of their businesses. But going forward their stores need to be the best they can be. Visiting customers need to be rewarded with welcoming, luxurious, and indulgent spaces that uniquely represent the brand. And the new digital business activities from lockdown, need to be transitioned and blended within physical stores.
Of course, this ‘phygital’ (physical/digital) conundrum is a common challenge throughout the retail sector and is hotly debated in the retail press and at trade shows, like the recent Retail Technology Show. However, whilst the challenge undoubtedly exists, we agree with the wise words of Carla Buzasi, MD of consumer trend forecaster WGSN, who recently posted that, “retailers need to view the complexities of ‘phygital’ transition as a marathon not a race”. This seems like great advice as luxury retailers and brands continue to grapple with the aftereffects of the pandemic, the market cooling following the rush of pent-up demand since lockdown, and a 40-year high inflation rate.
We closed our presentation with Carla’s wise words and the following nine ‘new retail’ priorities action list:
1. Revisit brand vision and values
2. Check that staff and customers understand them
3. Refresh brand stories
4. Critically review stores and communication touch points
5. Review customer service delivery operations
6. Test new ‘engaging’ services with staff and customers
7. Implement regular customer feedback protocols…and act on outcomes
8. Keep a watching brief on innovative retailers and service sectors
9. Plan to keep on evolving