Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. After shoppers rebutted the post-Brexit fears earlier this year, beating retailers’ expectations, it was almost too good to be true, writes Patrick Gallagher CEO of On the dot.
Sadly, the most recent figures from the British Retail Consortium revealed that footfall declined -1.2% in August - the biggest fall since January - as shoppers shunned the high street during heavy storms and rain, cutting back on non-essential spending.
And whilst data from the ONS shows that the UK retail sector performed better than expected in July, with sales rising -0.3%, it is still thought to be the worst month for fashion retailers in eight years. All this is only enhanced by Visa’s Consumer Spending Index, which found that the amount Britons spent on updating their wardrobes was down -5.2% on last month.
Declining customer footfall and poor retail sales coupled with increased competition - both on the high street and online - means that it’s now more important than ever for fashion retailers of all shapes and sizes to work hard and put their best foot forward to attract consumers as they tighten their purse strings.
So, what can retailers do to weather the storm and secure customer loyalty?
Remember that convenience is king
Over the past decade, the way that people shop has changed dramatically. The boom in internet retailing has meant that consumers no longer need to stick to traditional shop opening times, but can make their purchases 24/7. And thanks to the rise of connected devices, shoppers can buy that new dress or pair of jeans on their commute, from their desk or even the comfort of their own sofa.
As a result, retail is increasingly less about speed, and more about convenience; shopping is something that needs to fit seamlessly around people’s busy lives and delivery is at the centre.
Whilst the always-on nature of shopping presents a great opportunity to fashion retailers, it also means that consumers have become far too accustomed to a flexible, convenient offering. Regardless of whether a shopper is making their next fashion purchase in-store or via their smartphone, they’re attracted to the retailers who can tailor their offer to their specific needs and wants.
Retailers with a full range of convenience-boosting services in place - from easily navigable online platforms to the availability of different payment methods and a suite of delivery options - are the ones who stay front of mind and attract customers back time and again, despite the increasingly tough economic conditions.
Prioritise good customer experience
As customer footfall declines, and competition increases - from innovative new pop-ups through to rapidly growing retail giants - retailers need to prioritise their customer experience. Optimising the shopper journey from point of contact, through purchase experience and throughout the fulfilment cycle, will help infinitely in securing loyal customers.
And as more people turn to online shopping, face-to-face interaction between shop and shopper is decreasing and retailers are put under even more pressure to get every possible point of contact right.
Fulfilment has become the key differentiator and for online sellers it’s increasingly becoming the only touchpoint with a customer.
By offering shoppers a suite of delivery options tailored to their individual requirements, whether that’s early morning deliveries, deliveries a week in advance, to home to the workplace or whilst on the move, it’s about making their customers’ lives easier, and the shopping experience as smooth as possible.
Factor in a failsafe returns process
Alongside the increase in online purchasing, we’ve also seen a rise in the number of items being returned. In particular for those buying clothes or gifts, returns have become a key consideration. According to Metapack, almost half (49%) of shoppers have been deterred from making an online purchase due to the retailer’s returns process and over a third (39%) claim they look at the retailer’s returns policy before making a purchase.
There’s a simple reason for this: shopping online means that customers don’t see or handle their purchases until they’ve been shipped, and arrive on their doorstep.
It’s slowly becoming the norm for consumers to purchase multiple items of clothing in a variety of sizes and colours, with the aim of returning all but the ones they like best. And it’s therefore crucial that retailers make their returns process as painless as possible.
Understandably, retailers might think twice about making returns cheaper and easier - ultimately, it’s an additional cost for them to burden - but it’s a price well worth paying. Put simply, shoppers will spend more if returns are easier and they’ll come back again if they enjoyed a positive experience.
After all, offering optimised deliveries but then failing to provide a returns service to match may well see shoppers go elsewhere.
Deliver on your promises
Increased competition and waning consumer confidence means fashion retailers are forced to make more and more promises to their shoppers; from convenient delivery and returns, to optimised customer service and an enhanced experience overall.
Retailers need to be hyper-aware of this and have established, resilient networks in place to ensure customers are getting the service they’ve come to expect - and even demand. In today’s tough climate, delivering on retail promises is a key way to establish trust between consumer and brand, and secure customer loyalty.
With peak season fast-approaching, and footfall declining, over-promising and - quite literally - failing to deliver could be the end of some fashion retailers this year. For some shoppers, not having goods delivered at a pre-agreed time is worse than not having them delivered at all. But those retailers who consistently put their customers first, prioritising convenient services from point of purchase through to delivery and even returns, will be the ones who come out on top.