By Karina Kholodova, Senior Consultant – KIT.

The UK retail sector is fast becoming as unpredictable as the British weather. This week we discovered that John Lewis, a staple of the UK high street since 1864, said it does not expect to reopen some department stores when the UK lockdown ends. The news comes on the back of a reported £517m loss for 2020, which also means that for the first time since the 1950s, John Lewis staff will not be paid a bonus this year. But there is a hint of sunlight peeking through these clouds of despair, with the news that Greggs, the famed producer of the vegan sausage roll that operates 2,000+ stores, confirmed that despite posting its first loss in a generation, it is planning to open 100 net new shops this year.

Meeting customer needs by any means necessary

Despite imminent store closures, John Lewis has pledged to upgrade stores that survive, its e-commerce offering, and develop its shopping app. An £800m investment backs these initiatives. By committing to a more digital approach, providing its customers with access to products at any time, from anywhere, the new focus for John Lewis is to become more digitally driven. However, according to its chairman, Sharon White, stores still have an essential role to play but expects the shift online to be permanent. She said: “The high street is changing and our place on it is changing with it.” (Source: Guardian)

On the other hand, Greggs, the other famous high street brand, is making a mockery of the continual reporting of store closures around the UK by opening new outlets as it seems that it has indeed weathered the storm. Greggs introduced a Click & Collect service last summer and, at the end of 2020, successfully teamed up with Just Eat, the food delivery service with over 12 million registered users.

Injecting a digital lifeline to transform business operations

It’s no surprise, considering the impact tech is having on the retail sector this past year, that once again, the common theme running through both these developments is the impact of digitalisation. Technology continues to enhance the customer experience, linking the online with bricks and mortar, resulting in the customer having access to the best of both worlds. And, more importantly, being able to shop the brand wherever they are. Even pre-pandemic, convenience had become one of the highest priorities for consumers. In a National Retail Federation survey, 83% of respondents voted convenience as their priority for shopping. There are signs that this has grown yet further in the lockdowns that have followed.

Therefore, adding a personal touch to convenience, whether by loyalty schemes or by Clienteling tools such as KIT, will develop the customer experience even further.  Providing offers to regular customers, or curating collections/recommendations for brand loyalists, are just two different ways of expanding the customer experience across all touchpoints.

Social media, one-to-one messaging and video calling consultations are all ways of enhancing convenience and communication between brands and consumers – giving them the best of both.