Retail is undergoing a rapid transformation as a growing focus on ecommerce and ongoing disruption from the pandemic impacts sales, operations, and broader supply chains.
Questions have long been asked over the future of bricks and mortar retail – and COVID-19 has done the high street no favours. More than 17,500 chain store outlets in the UK closed in 2020. But a deep dive into consumer data uncovers a different story. Total retail sales volumes fell by 1.9 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year (the largest dip on record), while online sales rose by a record 33.9 percent. Yet e-commerce will still account for just 21 percent of total retail sales by 2023.
That many ‘digital-first’ brands have recently invested in physical stores suggests there’s plenty of life left in bricks and mortar retail. These companies have identified the growing power of omnichannel sales and marketing, linking physical and digital platforms to enhance the customer experience and maximise sales. Some believe that this trend will save shopping centres.
As footfall in high streets and shopping centres rises, consumers are expecting a different kind of experience to that from before the pandemic – one that’s safe while allowing them to see and interact with products in a way they can’t do online.
Customer experience – the journey through a store, the comfort levels and the visual appeal – has always been a bedrock of retail strategy because customers have a choice. If the experience isn’t right, the customer can shop elsewhere. And facilities management services have a critical role to play in ensuring spaces are safe and enjoyable. Here’s how they’re doing it:
Merging the online and physical worlds
As part of the omnichannel push, retailers are now making a huge effort to develop a seamless experience between their online platforms and in-store shopping. The most prominent example is in the rise of ‘click-and-collect’ services, where customers can search through products online, read user reviews, compare items, and customise their order before picking the purchase in-store. More recently, retail customers have been able to ‘order ahead’ on mobile apps, scan and pay for items in-store with their phone to avoid queues, and scan product barcodes in-store to retrieve product information such as availability, fit and customer reviews.
Once in store, great customer experience is seamless, so retailers need to ensure that critical assets and systems which control the environment don’t fail. If there is any disruption, customers won’t think twice about taking their business online. Any period of extended downtime will also bring operations to a grinding halt, damaging the bottom line. To stop this from happening, retailers should think about deploying smart building technology including sensors and analytics. Combining the two would allow retailers to collect historical data on the condition of assets, ultimately reducing the risk of unexpected failures and minimising potential downtime. For organisations that want to showcase responsible behaviours to discerning or ‘ethical’ consumers, especially in the form of net zero targets, sensor data helps them reduce their carbon footprint and share metrics publicly demonstrating their progress.
Comfort is a cornerstone of customer experience. Research suggests that the environmental effects of a physical store shape shopping behaviours. By installing environmental sensors, retailers can monitor air quality, humidity, temperature, lighting and noise and adjust all-important air flow/ventilation levels according to external factors.
By analysing building assets data or environmental sensor data with the information from digital sales systems, retailers can gain incredibly detailed insights into how the physical environment impacts engagement and sales, even allowing them to store design changes on the fly.
In retail, supply and demand for FM services can vary, which means retailers want resilience but cost-effective ways to respond to reactive need when necessary without disrupting customers. Here, on demand facilities services can benefit every retailer, from small independents to larger chains, shopping centre landlords to tenants who simply need to log day-to-day issues. On demand can help with health & safety compliance, store upkeep including general appearance and fabric, and all manner of small works. Rather than have shop assistants waste time with these tasks, facilities staff can make small fixes, whether it’s replacing signage, repairing an entryway or fixing a display.
Retailers need to ensure that stores are as clean and safe as possible, especially in the coming months. Despite the end to most Covid-19 restrictions, many people are still anxious about sharing public spaces with others. Nearly three-quarters of retailers have said they do not anticipate much change in consumer expectations toward in-store cleanliness even after the vaccination rate has grown further.
For retail, the pandemic has been an accelerator of change rather than a catalyst. Looking forward, retailers need to ensure they have the building blocks in place to adapt to the change and stay ahead of the competition. FM services and engineering can play a crucial role on that journey by providing the data, know-how and service quality to drive the omnichannel experience.