Not your typical opening line to a business blog granted, but it’s what the Medieval British thought true and therefore serves a purpose: to quickly highlight how beliefs can change over time.
People clinging to past ‘truths’ and habits usually limit this speed of change, unless of course an event occurs to force through a quicker switch in thinking. For UK businesses, and retailers in particular, the Covid-19 crisis is just such an event.
Consumer behaviour has now changed, as have their expectations for what good looks like. But how best to plan for this new normal? Where to apply innovation and fresh thinking, and how to adapt to ever-moving goal posts? Let’s take a brief look.
Leaner and simpler appears to be the order of the day for forward-looking retailers. The purpose being to enable nimbler, more elastic business models able to respond at speed to emerging opportunity.
A good example of this involves cupcakes. Lola’s cupcakes to be precise: the North London purveyor of handcrafted goodies. Recognising the impact Covid would have on their business, while also wanting to support local communities, Lola’s has extended its offering to include fresh fruit and groceries – all available via safe home delivery.
The drive for agile is also encouraging more strategic partnerships, and bringing together interesting bedfellows. Take John Lewis, which has extended its click and collect partnership with the Co-op to double its number of available locations.
Innovation also has a key role to play, with fresh thinking coming in many forms. For M&S, rolling out the ‘Never The Same Again’ programme, it means adopting a leaner, faster management structure.
For others, innovation remains centred on technology. Changing audience behaviour means the emergence of new customer segments with a range of addressable needs. Meeting these effectively requires the smart application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data to foster a deeper customer understanding:
The AI-driven Adwords Recommendations from Google factors in current trends, and is certainly a good place to start (or revisit)
Machine Learning (ML) tools like Amazon Personalize serve up the same capabilities for smaller businesses, helping expand choice and support for ‘small independents’
Not that technology is finished there. Investments in automation and robotics continue to expand at breakneck speed, with Tesco alone announcing plans to establish 25 automated ‘urban fulfilment centres’ by 2022.
Before then however, shoppers are already experiencing automation first hand, including:
Automated, cashier-less self-checkouts, digital click and collect, and interactive in-store displays
Chatbots handling frontline customer enquiries
Electronic shelf edges for faster re-stock by robotic pickers
These are all important developments with far-reaching consequences. But alone they’re not enough. Rather they’re enablers, and the task facing retailers now is to put them to work in building a customer experience that draws an excited audience – while also ensuring their safety.
Letting go of established beliefs is never easy, especially when many of them are still valid (though not the part about sprouts…). Today’s challenge does however require a clear focus on looking ahead, and exploring those areas proving to deliver the biggest bang per buck. These include:
Taking digital transformation to the next level by fully exploiting customer and transactional data with AI and ML
Building on agility by seeking the flexibility and automation needed to respond instantly to new market opportunities
Considering partnering opportunities to attract new customers, improve logistics, and to make the most of available retail space
Evaluating emerging platforms and media channels to keep existing customers on-board, and to attract those seeking different options
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