Retailers Risk Being Left Behind in the Transformation Game

A recent article on “Digital Disruption” I came across featured a fascinating statistic from Google about our habitual smartphone use, which I found a little disturbing.


From a cross sample of the UK population, 52% of us check our phones within five minutes of walking somewhere – even without being prompted by a notification.

That’s right, half of us don’t go anywhere without looking at our phones every few minutes. Is that still “disruption”, or just how people are?

What it tells us about the way technology has become integral to our lives, apart from to maybe look up more often is that consumers aren’t changing – they’ve already changed.

Consumers have been through the digital transition many retailers and brands are still struggling with and they are waiting for them to catch up.

But why do I say struggling with? Isn’t retail the fastest moving consumer industry? Well, yes and no.

Every year we commission research into the way marketers plan and execute their communications strategies. Most recently, we interviewed leading retailers from across the UK and Europe about how they are making the digital transition.

One startling finding was that 40% of retailers admitted that, digitally speaking, they consider themselves to be “behind the curve.” When you look at commentary around the retail industry, you soon see a disparate mix of misconceptions and contradictory, inconvenient truths which makes channel optimisation tricky to say the least.

But, in our “ever changing world”, what can retailers do to stay ahead of the curve and make sure they communicate how consumers expect them to?

‘Mobile first’ is a safe bet – but not for obvious reasons

According to BI Intelligence, mobile commerce is the dominating retail growth area, as it accounts for as much as 80% of retail web traffic, while 42% of us use our smartphones while we’re in-store. But that isn’t represented in terms of how people are spending their money, which means our little devices aren’t the go-to channel for purchases.

Despite being the fastest growing retail sales channel, mobile commerce accounts for just 28% of all online retail transactions – around £20bn. When you consider that of all retail spend in the UK, only 16.8% is done online, is it any wonder that “only” 60% of UK retailers have a mobile friendly website?

A statistic from Google says that only 11.8% of all digital marketing strategy in the UK is directed towards mobile, which is good news for retailers, as there’s still scope for growth, though that might not be the case for too long.

Print isn’t dead – and don’t listen to anyone who tells you it is

You’ve probably heard and read it it, I know I have and I don’t believe it for a second. By way of things called facts, the retail industry doesn’t seem to believe it either, for good reason.

Whilst there is, of course, less print in circulation today, it still has an important role to play because of other established and emerging channels – and that’s the point.

Just like any other format, print can be used very effectively, both as a communications channel for different purposes, like consumer activation or transactional communications, to cross-selling and driving sales directly.

More importantly, using print signposting other channels seems to have a solid place, particularly in retail.

The proof? Just a third of retailers told us that they either intend to replace print with digital formats, or it has been replaced already. Does 30%, in 2016 let’s not forget, match up with some of the more sensationalist statements around print volumes? I’m not too sure at all.

What retailers have been telling us is that consumers appreciate personalised, good quality and even premium print. It’s a channel which needs considered use, just like other channels. Who knew, right?

As one “pureplay retailer” told us: “We’re now using more sophisticated and economical print — it’s inspirational rather than shopping orientated. It points people to a range of channels.”

Ignore big data. Get personal instead.

Let’s get something out of the way – big data doesn’t need to be big and it never did.
What retailers are rightly focusing on is the information which enriches their customers’ experiences. That may already exist in a CRM system or in the back end of a loyalty scheme which isn’t being properly utilised, but again, no big data is required – just considered, relevant, personalised content.

Some of the best examples of personalisation can be seen in retail – 80% of people in our survey are currently leveraging their loyalty club data to drive more personalised transactional content and more than half would like to roll out personalisation more widely because they see a direct benefit.

All said and done

When evangelising about how best to reach consumers via emerging channels, we risk leaving one thing behind in our thinking – people. Consumers are still creatures of habit, which the market still reflects and, while habits have changed, it’s important not to generalise – and consider all channels in their proper context.

Speaking about “digital disruption” in a consumer context is already an out of date conversation, and one which could lead to retailers being left behind.

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