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It’s a marathon not a race: the transition to future retail

Updated: May 3, 2023

London Marathon and the future of retail

“It’s a marathon not a race” were the wise words in a 2022 blog by Carla Buzasi, MD of leading consumer trends forecaster WGSN. We were reminded of them this weekend as The London Marathon set off from our local park in Greenwich, our design agency’s hometown.

However, when Carla said this last year, she wasn’t referencing the London Marathon. She was discussing how retailers needed to approach the complexities of transitioning to the new physical/digital world of shopping, whilst grappling with the aftereffects of the pandemic and a 40-year high inflation rate.

For us Carla’s words still resonate today, and we frequently quote them in strategy meetings with clients - ‘phygital’ transition needs to be thought about as steady development, with incremental change and ongoing experimentation.

This approach was very much in evidence at this month’s Retail Technology Show. The event delivered a popular conference programme packed with ideas and practical takeaways from inspirational keynotes, retail experts and recent case-studies to support the retail sector’s ongoing development towards channel-less shopping. It was great to witness our vibrant sector looking and sounding more confident at this year’s show.

Of course, the challenges facing brands and retailers have obviously not abated, but far from the uncertain future physical retail faced this time last year, the Centre for Retail Research reported that UK online sales fell by 12% in 2022*. Consumers did return to the high street and stores undeniably remain a core part of the future retail landscape. However, retailers now understand that physical stores cannot work in isolation from the hybrid shopping experience consumers now expect, especially when as much as 50% of retail sales involve an online interaction at some point on the pathway to a purchase.

Aside from all the important strategic conversations going on around board room tables about how to blend physical and digital operations, we also recommend keeping a watchful eye on the wider retail sector to see how others are pacing their development strategies. There can be quick wins in avoiding the mistakes of others as well as learning from their successes across all aspects of business!

So, in this month’s blog we highlight our top six picks of the current ideas, case studies and innovations that you can read about in the recent trade press. We hope you find something of value here to inform your own new retail development strategy in the coming months.

Does your brand identify reflect your purpose?

It’s easy to lose focus as your business develops. Pets At Home relaunched their brand ID this month to reflect their expanding range of services and sub-brands. It provides a great case study about the need to annually review your vision and mission, both for staff and customers. With its new ID and ad campaign, Pets At Home is aiming to position itself as a one-stop destination for all things pet related, from grooming to veterinary needs, reflecting the changes they have made to their business model in recent years.

Could you experiment with physical formats?

Urban Outfitters is due to open a new ‘summer Dress Shop’ pop-up on the Kings Road in London as part of its continued expansion in Europe. The retailer hopes the new pop-up concept will attract new customers while at the same time offering existing customers a different retail experience. Pop-ups provide a flexible and valuable route to test locations, to pilot concepts, and to grow new customer segments.

Is your omni-channel approach fit for purpose?

In this month’s newsletter from the Institute of Customer Service, CEO Jo Causon calls for the need to regularly review customer journeys and get feedback at every point. Importantly she says businesses need to get a proper ‘feel’ for how customers ‘experience’ their journeys. In other words, it is not just about smooth processes and procedures it’s about taking time to understand customers in order to build stronger relationships. So, you need to ensure your data and research is asking the right questions.

Customer convenience is king!

With the soaring cost of online returns and people returning to their workplaces making home deliveries less convenient, your click-and-collect operations provide you and your customers with a win:win. Primark – who were late to adopt an online presence – have seen sales surge and has expanded its click-and-collect service following successful store trials.

How are you rewarding customers?

There are many ways to reward your customers for taking the trouble to visit your store. Loyalty schemes have always been popular, and it looks like Pret have made a success of their coffee subscription service as they’ve recently launched ‘Club Pret’ to expand the scheme and include a discount on their food range.

What does your brand experience look like?

Of course, rewarding customers in-store with great immersive experiences is the other way to drive footfall and brand loyalty. Last month PRADA Caffe opened in London’s Harrods, embodying the essence of this iconic brand. It gives visitors the opportunity to engage with Prada’s distinctive world view and provides a great case study to demonstrate how to create brand spaces. Not everyone has Prada’s budgets but there are some interesting lessons here for anyone planning a new flagship concept.

And finally, back to the London Marathon: here’s a shout out to our client Nick Horsfall of Lister Horsfall who successfully completed the London Marathon last weekend in a brilliant time! Pictured above collecting sustenance from the family at the half way point.


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