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The value of individualisation in the new world of retail

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When you think of retail and Covid-19, you can't help but feel a sense of discomfort pretty much off the bat. Retail has been heavily hit in the middle of this pandemic, with high street stores and firms closing up, tourism going down and an overall decline in physical shopping spend, retailers have been struggling quite a lot since lockdowns started.

In this new normal for the retail industry, individualisation and humanity take the front stage, and it is now imperative more than ever to provide meaningful experiences for end customers of any retail brand. At last, it is time for retail to embrace the future... or perish trying to cling to its past.

We got in touch with Caroline Parkes, Chief Experience Officer at RAPP and Code, to learn more about the topic thanks to a recent survey the agency has conducted among consumers. Huge credits for the amazing header image go to Cassie Bendall, Richard Wood and their Cheddar Creative! Make sure to take a look at their profiles when you have a chance.

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Image credit: Carlos "Charro" Altamirano

When the shutters are down, the humanity needs to go up

As the shutters on stores look like they’ll remain closed for some time yet, how can high street retailers ensure they’ll be opening them once lockdown is lifted? As we head into a K-shaped economy, the battle for customer acquisition and retention is set to ramp up for retailers, who will be either on the upward trajectory to Amazon or ASOS, or the downward decline to Debenhams and Dorothy Perkins.

Clearly, the winners in today’s retail environment are those digital-first brands who’ve always had innovative customer experience at the heart of their brands. But what of those brands who are adapting to a total change in the way we’re shopping? Through a combination of data, tech and human psychology, retail brands can deliver more human experiences and interactions that deliver on shoppers' needs at every touchpoint. Customer experience is key at a time of socio-economic challenges, but even more so is the capacity to tailor it to every individual customer, to make shopping from your home/office/school (all in one nowadays) feel that little bit more special. So, we might not be able to replicate the frisson and fun of a Saturday shopping trip, but there are other things that customers want from shopping than the adrenalin rush of a yet another pair of ‘the perfect black ankle boot’ or a red lippy.

Realignment of consumer priorities

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, retailers, like all businesses, were forced to reassess their marketing plans and align their activities with new consumer behaviours.

What stood out in our research was the varied impact the pandemic had on different retail sub-sectors. Fashion and Luxury, for example, have experienced the sharpest decline, with 51% and 45% of consumers saying they have shopped less in these spaces. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Homeware and Food and Drink categories saw a noticeable increase in spend with 21% and 30% of consumers respectively saying they have shopped more. These were topped only by Supermarket Delivery, which at 37% saw the highest growth of any retail sub-category.

The surge in online supermarket delivery makes total sense at a times of an international crisis – it satisfies the key consumer needs of necessity and control. There seems to be a realignment of consumer priorities and a widespread reduction in excess spend across retail sub-sectors that can be described as less essential.

Beyond frictionless experiences

Almost a third (30%) of consumers said they would choose the brand that makes their life easier. But “makes my life easier” means different things to different individuals, meaning retailers need a sound understanding of their audiences’ unique behaviours, beliefs and attitudes in order to truly simplify their lives.

‘Convenience and Clarity’ was ranked the most important value to consumers, with a staggering 52% saying that the brand needs to be “easy to understand, buy and use.” When we’re spending so much of our lives sat in front of laptop screens, we’re trying to move away from them. Zoom parties and quiz nights are falling out of popularity as we’re hibernating and cheering ourselves up with Bridgerton, so when we’re dual-screen shopping we’re looking to get sorted quickly and watch what happens next with Hastings.

When we’re spending so much of our lives sat in front of laptop screens, we’re trying to move away from them.

Frictionless experiences however are only one piece of the puzzle. Choice and options are also incredibly important. 42% of consumers ranked this as the most important value. A fifth (20%) said they rank control as the important value, expecting retailers to offer them control of how they manage the product and brand relationship.

Retailers have a bigger role to play in helping consumers choose the right products, but this can only be achieved if an organisation has collected relevant data points and used those insights correctly to arrive at a clear connection with the individual. Which goes beyond simply understanding their style or tastes preferences, but goes as deep as understanding their personality type. We know extroverts and introverts shop very differently, for example, responding to promotions and messaging in unique ways. So being able to identify these nuances, ensures a more effective outcome.

Making sense of new consumer values 

The statistics ring truer than ever now, as we face the latest lockdown. Something which is likely to be our reality for much of the year’s first quarter.

There is a staggering shift in consumer values, behaviours and actions, the effects of which will likely be around for some time. People want individualised experiences that will not only make their lives easier, but also offer them relevant choices and align with their values around how the world should operate. In fact, 83% of consumers said it’s equally or more important that retail brands treat them as individuals.

This is hardly surprising. Retail has long encapsulated ideas of self-expression and individualism. Advertising in the sector has long aimed to target consumers as true individuals, away from the rudimentary customisation of mass comms of personalisation based on generic data such as age, location and name. But the days where marketing communications and advertising campaigns were purely transactional are over. Individualisation in marketing is no longer just a nice to have – it signifies the difference between winning and losing customers. 

Advancements in technology have made it possible to create value from every individual’s experience of a brand. Individualisation combines data, cultural anthropology and behavioural science to deliver omni-channel, dynamic marketing programmes that connect with who a person really is. It addresses their wants, needs and behaviours. It targets characteristics and personality types unique to that individual and can even predict future actions based on past behaviour. It recognises the signals that affect how an individual might be feeling and how responsive they’ll be in one moment, to the next. In the brave new world of post-COVID retail, achieving this kind of intimacy with consumers will make all the difference.


Caroline Parkes is the Chief Experience Officer at RAPP and Code. Header image: Cassie Bendall

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