07 August 2019, 12:07 PM
  • Three pillars of the retail community tell us how to adapt to changing consumer and industry demands
The Future of Retail

STUART GATES, THE SEASONED GROCER
Recently, with over four decades of retail experience under my belt, I’ve been reflecting on the present and future state of retail. There is currently a perception that our modern shopper needs access to round-the-clock purchasing opportunities. It is all too easy to get swept along with this thinking, but I do wonder if this is the best way forward for many retailers. To achieve those long trading hours, a shop requires a level of staffing and operational costs, so I wonder if now is the time to look again at the whole retail arena and reappraise goals and objectives.

A common denominator with successful retailers is that they all have motivated, well trained staff members who have had time invested in them. From my experience, happy staff lead to satisfied customers with the end result being healthy profits. And what about the shifting balance between online shopping and ‘bricks and mortar’ retail? In my opinion, retail is about the senses and with that in mind I often advise speciality retailers that they should focus on what they do best by offering a speciality retail experience to customers.

So what do I conclude about the High Street of the present and future? Well, I still get great pleasure visiting shops, markets and other types of outlets and always look forward to discovering something new. Certainly, the retail world needs to plan for the future. Retailers, planners and local authorities need to work together and focus on solutions that revitalise the high street and the shopping experience. Maybe that’s easier said than done but there are innovative and forward-thinking retailers out there who will need local authority support in order to keep towns and high streets alive and vibrant. The quaint opening hours of the past are unlikely to return, but the age-old practice of listening to your customers and giving them a shopping experience that they want is as true now as it was when I first started in retail.

ANGUS FERGUSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF DEMIJOHN
Demijohn decided to expand its offerings to more consumers by taking up concessions in other like-minded food shops. The exorbitant costs associated with trading from a traditional fixed shop on a high street is now at odds with the ever falling numbers of purchasing customers coming to those shops. The seismic change in shopping habits of the average British consumer over the last three to four years has forced us to have a radical rethink of the way we are distributing our products. In contrast to this is the success of our concessions and more flexible pop-up shops, which have demonstrated a better way to reach more customers in more areas across the country. To date there are highly successful Demijohn concessions at Loch Leven’s Larder Farm Shop in Fife, Luss General Store on the shores of Loch Lomond, the White Goose Restaurant & Bar in Dundee and with more planned throughout the UK.

Consumers are more aware than even that they must change their shopping habits fast if they are to honestly follow a more sustainable existence. However, we all need to keep shopping, which creates mixed feelings in those who are more conscientious. The good news is that sustainable shopping can still be enjoyable, especially when it is carried off in an engaging, intelligent and fun way. The huge benefit with refill retail is that a customer can feel a sense of pride of helping the environment while still indulging in a little retail therapy. Demijohn’s refill offering is therefore a win win for both food shopper and the environment and we plan to make much more of it in the coming year.

When Frances and I set the company up in 2004, we made it an important part of our mission to try and be a low impact retailer. What we started has been a revolution in retail that is only now becoming clear. Re-use is better than recycle, hence our dedication to allow customers to refill. However, we go along way when we are creating new processes and packaging for our products to ensure that the most environmentally friendly choice is taken if at all possible. For example, we favour real cork stoppers in our bottles over plastic alternatives, despite the additional burden of cost on us as a business. When we were developing our wooden tantalus for our bottle gift sets, such as those used for our very popular Gin Rack, we deliberately used British Poplar wood which is from sustainably managed woodlands here in the UK. We have very low waste levels for a retail business and we have won awards for our achievements, but being green is not easy nor cheap. It is the local authorities who have been consistently nervous about overseeing the way we wish to run our modern, ecofriendly business. Over the last 15 years we have also faced many challenges with new high level regulation in the food and drink sector being forced upon us which has further restricted our ability for us to offer our customers the true shopping freedom they appear to want.

WILL BROOME, FOUNDER AND CEO OF UBERMARKET
To some extent, retailers in physical stores are implementing retail tech into bricks and mortar to secure their places on high streets. There are certain qualities and aspects of the shopping experience which cannot be replicated online and it is good that retailers have noted this. This levels the playing field between in-store and online sectors whilst driving prices down for consumers in the process. Originally, retailers would communicate their offers with traditional methods such as email marketing that stems from loyalty card customers and stockpiling at the end of aisles. All of which is becoming increasingly ineffective. Now, this is translating into push notifications which can pose many benefits for retailers and consumers and enables supermarkets to reach their shoppers far beyond the first time they step into stores.

The mounting store closures across the UK are indicative of an industry-wide requirement to innovate and advance the in-store offering in bricks and mortar stores. Over half of consumers prioritise convenience as the most important factor when shopping in physical stores and retailers would do well to take this on board. However, whilst Britain is already lagging behind in the retail robots department, such implementation has the potential to cut jobs in an already struggling sector. Incorporating retail tech into stores without cutting human contact out from the process entirely is the way forward. Research has suggested that automation may amount to a bloodbath of job losses. The solution may be implementing nimble systems that can do jobs at pace, whilst still placing customers in front of people. Personalisation is the key to success and it is vital that retailers start to note this. Whilst implementing retail tech poses many benefits, it is important that this does not entirely cut out consumer interaction. Ubamarket research has found that 53% of consumers want convenience, however, this does not mean that they want to eliminate all aspects of human interaction to achieve this.

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