The retail sector today is a far cry from what it was when I first started out at Ann Summers. With so many trading platforms available to retailers, those not adopting a multi-channel approach are going to struggle to achieve any cut-through. Quite simply, they can’t afford to ignore the young consumer, who is digitally savvy and shopping in a much more digital way compared to just a few years ago.
While we were trading through multiple channels well before our time – we offered our customers party planning first in the early 1980s before moving into retail and then heading online – the challenge facing retailers nowadays is how to make that multi-channel experience seamless. Omnichannel retailing is a big change and you have to constantly remind yourself as a brand that the customer doesn’t see you as three, four or five channels; they see you as one business and they want shopping with you to be easy, stress-free and convenient.
That’s not to say it’s any harder to build a successful retail business nowadays; there are just different challenges. If anything, I think it’s a far more exciting space to work in as it’s moving at such a pace. It’s just about identifying that gap in the market and establishing a really strong USP. You can’t get away with imitating; you’ve got to innovate otherwise you will find it next to impossible to succeed.
The dawn of social media has undoubtedly been a wake-up call for many businesses but one that offers great opportunity. Never before have companies been so visible to consumers and been able to communicate so easily. This means it’s absolutely crucial that you stay completely true to your brand. Don’t become distracted by what others are doing; if you exhaust all of your energy chasing after your competitors, you will neglect who you really are and what you are about. This is really important and is what we do at Ann Summers. We know exactly who we are, who our customers are and what they want from us. We stay true to our brand and ensure that the customer is delighted with their experience at every single touchpoint. We do this by listening to our customer, offering a truly multi-channel proposition and making sure that the journey is as engaging and seamless as possible.
Achieving this means engaging with the customer in a way that’s relevant to both them and your brand. I was talking to a director at House of Fraser last month and we both agreed that you no longer start with the brand or campaign. You start with the customer.
Essentially, you have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. A good starting point for any new retail brand is to make sure the customer is at the heart of everything it does, an approach that has always worked for me and that I will continue to champion.
It sounds crazy but it is unbelievable how many retail brands forget why we all do what we do; it’s for the customer and we shouldn’t ever forget that.