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Key takeaways from the Future Stores 2021 Benchmarking Report

Future Stores Report 2021

The importance of technology in retail has been further emphasised in the findings from a new report which surveyed 100 Directors of Retail from organisations across Europe.

In Q2 of 2021, WBR Insights conducted the survey, to find out about the challenges retailers are facing in 2021 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the innovative solutions they are putting in place to bounce back better.

The result is the Future Stores 2021 Benchmarking Report – Leveraging Technology For Growth in 2021: A Strategic Restructuring of Retail Post-Covid

The report highlights the importance of blending digital and physical channels, how forward-thinking retailers are going all-in on customer experience in a post-pandemic world, and how investing in technology has been one of the biggest lessons retailers have learnt during the pandemic.

Here are the key takeaways:

1. Retailers are doubling-down on CX

According to the report: “The first strategic priority for retailers is customer experience (CX). COVID-19 has bred a more discerning and selective customer in the decision-making process. Post-COVID, customers no longer simply ‘buy from companies’ but ‘buy into companies’. As a result, brand reputation, trust, and purpose are now more factored into decision making to ensure safety, convenience, certainty and security. Accordingly, our respondents recognise the importance of CX in the new normal equation. Most of our respondents indicated that they had allocated 31-40% of their budget for CX innovation over the next 12 months.”

Investments in CX deliver huge ROI. Whether it’s investing in IT infrastructure to create a seamless cross-channel experience or remapping stores to allow customers to move more easily through them, prioritising CX is now firmly at the heart of everything the best retailers are doing.

Will Lockie, Global Head of Digital at Georg Jensen, says: “COVID has thrown a spotlight on many brands’ and retailers’ digital experience, and for many, it was a huge pressure test, uncovering areas of weakness for some or strengths for others. The winners were those who were already prioritising the basics of a good digital experience.

COVID has thrown a spotlight on many brands’ and retailers’ digital experience, and for many, it was a huge pressure test.
– Will Lockie, Global Head of Digital at Georg Jensen

“For others, it forced investments and projects to deliver quick improvements. I also think the more forward-looking businesses are beginning to organise around ‘experiences, not campaigns’. Rising customer expectations of brands, purchasing decisions driven by values, not price, and new business models with innovative experiences, are driving this change.”

2. Blending physical and digital channels is essential

The report states: “In the post-COVID era, retailers that embrace omnichannel marketing and unifying marketing strategies will be the true winners. Consolidating all marketing channels, products, payment systems, and customer interactions promises to deliver a wholly integrated, measurable, and frictionless customer experience. In light of this, the majority of our respondents plan to invest in digital technology to make unified commerce a reality within the next 12 months.”

Shoppers expect a consistent shopping experience regardless of the channel they choose – and they expect orders to be fulfilled quickly and efficiently regardless of the channel.

As Jens Levin, Sitoo co-founder and CEO says: “Stores can no longer be isolated. More than ever we, as consumers, perceive all physical and online sales channels as one and we expect that moving across different stores and online sales channels should be seamless.

Nothing could be further from the truth than the ‘death’ of physical retail.
– Jens Levin, co-founder and CEO at Sitoo

“Nothing could be further from the truth than the ‘death’ of physical retail. Only 10% of retailers across Europe say physical stores are not important to them. Research carried out in the UK at the end of 2020 discovered 80% of retailers say their stores are becoming just as, if not more important, to their business than before the pandemic. So, as digital continues to boom, it’s vital all channels are connected – preferably in real-time.”

3. Investing in technology is non-negotiable

The report found that one of the biggest lessons retailers learnt through the pandemic was that those who invested in technology were in a much stronger position than those who didn’t.

Jens adds: “The pandemic has shown us two things: one, customers now expect every retailer to have a seamless, integrated offering, and, two, retailers further along in their digital transformation journeys have been able to weather the storm far better than those who have resisted change.

“Investing in technology and digital solutions that turn unified commerce into a reality and make the customer experience a priority should be top of the list for retailers who are serious about success. Online and mobile shopping will continue to grow but writing off physical retail is a dangerous path to take.

Combining online and physical and unifying them with the help of cloud-native technology, is what the best brands are already doing and will continue to do throughout 2021 and beyond.
– Jens Levin, co-founder and CEO at Sitoo

Download the full report for more insight and to see what trends are shaping the industry.

Download the report

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