Here at A1 Retail we will be updating this page with different industry professionals’ comments and viewpoints on the latest news and changes in the retail industry. Watch this space! 

October 2017 

Discussion: Halloween

“Although it may still be seen as an American celebration, Halloween has become much more established in the retail calendar in the UK, and retailers cannot afford to ignore what is quickly becoming a landmark event. According to figures, retail sales hit £310m during Halloween last year, a 35% growth over four years and are expected to rise again to £320m in 2017. There is no doubt that customers will want to go in-store to buy their favourite sweets, try on different costumes and ultimately, purchase products. What is clear is that the in-store experience must now be a seamless, convenient and reliable experience. Yes, these traits are all commonly associated with online, but there’s no reason brick and mortar stores can’t achieve the same level of experience, especially during proactive peaks.

“The key to success is in offering an engaging and seamless customer experience across all channels. eCommerce is a great avenue to reach the customer, but the physical store remains a fantastic revenue driver, particularly when retail peaks are taking place. Retailers must take what customers crave online and implement it in-store. Promotional activity offers an initial draw, but by using apps, inventory systems and similar in-store technology, sales assistants can show shoppers what’s on offer and right for their taste. Along with Black Friday, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Halloween is a welcome opportunity to traditional retailers, and clearly those that choose to embrace it by providing the best service will not only see huge financial benefits but will secure the customer’s long-term attention.”

Olga Kotsur, CEO & Co-founder, Mercaux


Discussion: Sainsbury’s 

Heather Barson, Director of Retail and Hospitality, Fujitsu UK:

“This latest move by Sainsbury’s to offer shoppers a chance to buy suits alongside their weekly shop is just the latest in supermarkets’ ongoing diversification and push into expanding their offerings in-store. With competition rife, retailers are increasingly looking to move into new sectors in a bid to diversify their offerings, helping reach a whole pool of consumers they wouldn’t otherwise. And with £1 of every £10 spent on clothing in the UK now going to supermarkets, it’d be a lie to say it isn’t working. 

“The simple truth is that the relationship between consumer and brand has changed irrevocably. With so much change taking place, it’s now all about the customer experience. Whilst the idea of ‘loyalty’ was once a focus for brands, we’re now in an era where, instead of shopping on a brand’s likability, consumers are asking questions around whether a brand offers a product at their price point, convenience and to meet their expectations. With this significant shift taking place, it’s all about finding that point of differentiation. Take ‘opening hours’ as a prime example of this. With most supermarkets, on average, open later than the high street retailer, supermarkets have the upper hand – giving time-strapped consumers the opportunity to buy more in one ago, and during a time that suits them best. 

“With consumer confidence plunging, competition is fierce and both customer loyalty and shopping experience are weighing in. Put simply – if the experience is good and what a consumer expects and needs from their brand, they will go back.”


Discussion: Are you ready for Black Friday? 

Tom Downes, CEO at Quail Digital comments: 

Connecting Staff for the Black Friday Onslaught

“While retailers welcome the uplift in revenue that comes with Black Friday, for staff – especially in-store staff – the experience is often far less welcome. Prioritising activity can be tough for store associates during a normal sales day, but juggling product questions, click and collect fulfilment and store deliveries is a walk in the park compared to the potential bedlam that can occur on Black Friday. 

“The challenge for retailers is not just managing the sheer volume of customers and the high levels of sales transactions but ensuring the right staff are in the right place at the right time. Tom Downes, CEO, Quail Digital, explains the importance of excellent in-store communication to maximise sales and minimise stress on Black Friday.”

Black Dread

“Vast numbers of hyped-up customers; long check-out queues; shelves requiring constant tidying and restocking; plus, the ever-present risk of theft and damage – Black Friday is hardly a store associate’s dream day. And yet this is a key day in the retail year – one on which a retailer can massively boost revenue if the customer experience is right.

“For the customer, Black Friday is all about speed. It is about finding the right products at the right price, making the purchase and moving on to the next store. And that creates a challenge for store staff – is the priority minimising the check-out queues or restocking shelves? Managing security or ensuring experts are on hand to answer customer questions?

“While staff can clearly handle many aspects of the day to day activity, when it gets tough – and it doesn’t get much tougher than Black Friday – prioritisation must be the role of the store manager. This is not a day for the store manager to be locked away in a back office. A store manager needs to be on hand, actively checking check-out queues, spotting problems with bag handling and or issues with security tags. Managers need to be on the shop floor – and they need to be in constant communication with staff.”

Connected Store

“Achieving that communication, however, is not straightforward. A dated tannoy system is certainly not a solution – in the Black Friday frenzy, this is just one more source of noise and annoyance for customers and staff alike. Similarly, telephones or walkie talkies which demand staff actually interrupt current activity to answer are hardly a viable solution! The alternative is an integrated wireless headset system which uses a single channel to ensure all members of staff are in permanent communication, allowing the manager to direct operations and taking the prioritisation burden away from staff. 

“In addition to enabling the store manager to be on the shop floor continuously, the single channel also means all staff are permanently tuned in – but in the background, minimising impact on current tasks but enabling immediate response as and when required by the manager or colleagues. Should a problem arise in the Black Friday scrum – from attempted theft to customers fighting over the last heavily reduced TV – staff are able to respond immediately. 

“Critically, on this most challenging of in-store days, continuous but unobtrusive communication enables store managers to optimise staff resources in real time, from anywhere in the store. Reallocating staff on the fly in response to the actual in-store situation takes the pressure off staff, improves efficiency and delivers a better customer experience – all of which will be key to maximising the Black Friday sales opportunity.”

 * * *

Duncan Keene, UK Managing Director at ContentSquare comments:

Are Your Insights Falling Into The Black Friday Black Hole?

“With upwards of one hundred times the traffic of a standard day, Black Friday should have provided online retailers with an amazing depth of insight over the past few years – but the reality has been very different. Not only are retailers failing to mine the volume of data generated during usual trading volumes but Black Friday is hardly an a-typical day. So does data analytics offer any value at all on the busiest shopping day of the year? Most definitely, if you want to deliver the fastest, slickest and most effective shopping experience, insists Duncan Keene, UK Managing Director, ContentSquare.

“Consumers shop very differently on Black Friday; it is all about speed – finding products fast, ensuring delivery options fit and checking out smoothly. There is no tolerance for confusing offers, for convoluted delivery messaging or check-out processes slowed down by add-on offers, or options to sign up for loyalty schemes. That is a different message for a different day. To make the most of Black Friday retailers need to get the fundamentals of the experience as slick as possible – and nothing more.

“It sounds so straightforward – yet in a market where UX teams have little insight into problems due to the sheer volume of data and test based on best practice and intuition at best, ensuring the fundamentals are working perfectly is difficult. How well prepared, for example, is the mobile site? During the holiday season, the conversion rate more than doubles on mobile, signalling that more users buy this way when they have a feeling of urgency – and it doesn’t get much more urgent than Black Friday.

“What is required therefore is a way to gain rapid insight from the existing data resources. And that is where AI and machine learning are set to play a vital role in transforming the day to day activity of eCommerce teams. 

“In contrast to manual data mining techniques that can barely scratch the surface of eCommerce data, AI can transform speed to insight. Whether through mining the entire checkout process and then surfacing immediately both a problem and its location; or looking at different areas of the page to identify those that don’t get clicked on very often but convert well when they do; AI can provide rapid insight into the priority areas that need to be tested. Essentially, AI can find the issues quickly – enabling organisations to focus on delivering the right Black Friday experience, from reducing journey length to improving signposting and ensuring the guest check out is easy to find and use.

“And with Black Friday in the UK fast evolving from a day to a period – extending in 2016 from Monday 21st November to Friday 25th November – according to IMRG, it is becoming increasingly important to understand different trends in behaviour across the longer time frame and ensure the experience matches up.”

Capturing Attention

“With good processes in place, retailers can turn their attention to the best ways of capturing shoppers’ interest. Shoppers are ready to buy – with conversion rates rising by 89% between the first three weeks of November and Black Friday events, retailers have a short opportunity to attract a huge audience. 

“While Black Friday is not a day to attempt to boost the loyalty programme, with vast numbers of individuals arriving on a site for the first time – often from Google Shopping – how can a retailer make it compelling and reduce bounce rates?

“This is where analysis of this year’s Black Friday activity will provide invaluable insight not only for next year but any other peak trading time, including Christmas. Understanding what worked, what didn’t and being able to monetise content is incredibly valuable – especially from a merchandising point of view.  Which of the many offers on the homepage generated the most revenue? Where was it located? Did the less prominent offer outperform one located higher up the page, despite not being seen by the majority of shoppers too impatient to scroll down? Of those that did click on the offer, how many went on to make a purchase? 

“Instead of ditching all this insight into the Black Friday Black Hole, understanding the way content performs, the segments of traffic new to the site and their journey, will deliver retailers invaluable insight to ensure they are ready to make the most of the next big trading day.” 



Discussion: Ikea to sell online on third-party sites

Hugh Fletcher, Global Head of Consultancy and Innovation at Salmon comments:

“Ikea’s ‘test’ to sell flat-pack furniture through third-party providers is unsurprising given how digitally-inherent customers now expect convenience in their daily shopping experience. The rise of digital services has disrupted the sector entirely, and is encouraging more and more brands to take on an omni-channel strategy that realises partnerships of this ilk. Ikea’s potential alignment with Amazon makes sense given that the Seattle giant continues to show that immediacy is king in the retail world; Prime completely changed retail and showed customers that they can have what they want with little waiting time.

“Whoever Ikea aligns itself with, it will be a coup. Why? Because it is evidence that even some of the biggest global brands are using the interfaces and infrastructure of big market-place providers to develop their omni-channel strategy. This type of partnership may open the floodgates for other brands and service providers to jump in too. But jump in with caution they must. Whilst a partnership with a market-place gives access to customers, experiences and logistics, it removes a direct relationship with the brand. With this is mind, Ikea will have to work even harder to re-retain customer loyalty.

“There is no doubt that the supply-chain logistics and overall operations will be complex, albeit simplified by a partnership with an existing ecommerce powerhouse. Developing a complete ecommerce offering will allow Ikea to reach into a previously untapped market. Looking beyond online, innovation will play its part in separating the very best from the rest. It has never been so crucial for retailers to evolve their business. Online has rapidly become the platform of choice but entirely new services such as Programmatic Commerce and Zero-UI connected devices like Google Home will soon become the norm. Retailers that embrace this kind of innovation will ultimately be the ones that succeed.”

* * *

Gill Holloway, Sales Director at Insight UK comments:

“In a bid to become more accessible to its shoppers, Ikea’s move to start selling its products through third-party websites makes one thing clear – with consumer demand and expectations ever accelerating, it’s positive to see retailers speed up adoption of new offerings and services in light of these changing shopping habits.

“In an increasingly digitalised world, there have never been more opportunities for retailers to take advantage of the functionality that we, as consumers, have come to depend on in recent years. Further reinforced by the fact that a growing proportion of consumers were born into a world where mobile devices, social media and the internet are day-to-day companions, many consumers bring with them different expectations of how they want to engage with organisations.

“With a multitude of retail options, from online and social to mobile and in-store, consumers increasingly look towards retailers with a broad online presence and strong omni-channel strategies in place. After all, those who have seamlessly integrated channels that flow from shop floor, to the back-end systems through to the online store will be the ones best positioned to capitalise on the new, digitally driven path to purchase.

“As digital transformation is a journey it’s important to remember that retailers are not going to get there overnight. And as the retail industry evolves, more brands should be taking a leaf out of Ikea’s book by exploring how they can better manage existing consumer demands and transform for future business goals.”

    ISE 2018 right-hand skyscraper
    2018 A1 Buyers Guide
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