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As Scotland joins England and Wales in reopening non-essential retail, the latest Deloitte Consumer Tracker has recorded a record quarterly rise in consumer confidence. The easing of lockdown restrictions and rollout of vaccines has boosted every measure of confidence both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter – a sign that renewed economic activity is on the horizon.
“The UK is primed for a sharp snap back in consumer activity. High levels of saving, the successful vaccination rollout and the easing of the lockdown set the stage for a surge in spending over the coming months,” said Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte.
Deloitte said ‘going to a shop’ topped its list of leisure activities consumers are most likely to do after lockdown, with 63% saying they’d plan to return within a month of measures lifting. For independent food retailers, this means the return of the bricks and mortar experience is on the cards.
As consumers become more comfortable with visiting stores, retailers can bring more of the shopping experience back – but the challenge in the coming months will be blending experiential shopping with the safety measures that have now become the norm. “[The independent retail experience is] all about time and engagement and plentiful stock. You want customers to spend time, look and discover, pick things up, come and ask questions,” said Edward Berry, food retail consultant at The Flying Fork. “Doing that whilst at the same time just getting three people in and out – that is the challenge.”
Edward suggests focusing initially on safety. In the shorter term, signage, clear directions and controlling the number of customers in your shop will be key to providing shoppers with a safe experience. And retailers can still show off their creative flair here. “A bit of humour – you see plenty of nice signs around – and a little bit of character is what we do as retailers,” Edward says. “We try to entertain people as much as encourage them to shop. A bit of what we do is in the entertainment world.”
In the medium term, shops can flow into regaining the “retail theatre experience,” Edward said. “The sense of occasion is what we want to reintroduce – doing it in planned and safe ways.”
Despite having stayed in close contact with customers through the pandemic, Kay Croot, who runs Croots Farm Shop in Derbyshire with husband Steve, is eagerly anticipating the return of the “shopping experience”.
“Customer experience is something that we keep under constant review – we think it’s paramount that we improve it all the time. As an independent, we’re in a unique position because we have such a close relationship with our customers, and we are always looking to build on that,” Kay said.
Current projects include the return of a newly rebranded café on 17th May in accordance with government regulations, as well as a renewed focus on staff knowledge. “We’re working with our team here at Croots Farm Shop to give them improved product knowledge so that they can talk confidently about the products that we sell, where they come from and how they can be used. Provenance is important to our customers.”
The team is also focusing on establishing a children’s play area. “We recognise that spending time with friends, family and loved ones is something that we’ve all missed so we’re very keen to offer a lovely space for families with young children to meet and share precious time,” Kay said.
Elsewhere, bringing the experience back to food retail can involve dabbling in community-building projects. For example, Selfridges announced it would open a SoulCycle outdoor fitness studio to complement its retail offering, as well as an exclusive Experience Concierge, a new gifting service offering specially curated experience packages. “We have been connecting with and listening to our customers and we understand what they have been missing – experiences and inspiration,” said managing director Andrew Keith.
Independents can also make the most of this craving for experiences by teaming up with local businesses. The Farm, Stratford has provided yoga classes or even salon experiences by working with other businesses in its community.
While safety will remain at the forefront of the retail experience in the short term, there is hope that in the near future, the “retail theatre” of fine food independents will return.
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