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The future of local retail - blending physical with virtual to create 'special'​.

The future of local retail - blending physical with virtual to create 'special'​.

Here’s a really interesting round table discussion from The Drum that struck a chord at We Are Acuity. It’s about the role of physical versus digital commerce as we come out of the pandemic. With input from Debbie Ellison, Chief Digital Officer at Agency VMLY&R COMMERCE, alongside David Kohn Customer and E-Commerce Director at the wonderful Heals furniture store. You might have expected sparks to fly and a real clash of cultures, but there’s genuine continuity and agreement about what’s needed from their two different perspectives.


It’s clear that on-line shopping has made huge progress during lockdown. 80% of the population have now bought on-line. You could almost feel the battle has been lost. But it hasn’t. It’s actually shown there’s a huge pent up demand for experiences, the ‘special’ and getting back into physical stores. Amazon may dominate everything that’s a necessity or commodity but not everything’s a slave to that!


It’s agreed by Debbie and David there’s a huge opportunity for brands with purpose and meaning right now. It’s the biggest single consumer trend they are seeing. But this kind of brand equity can only be built across multiple customer touchpoints both virtual and physical. People want to be understood and catered for. They want to be inspired. They want to touch and feel products. Only by doing that can brands create something special. But it means carefully listening to customers and building local communities. 


And this is where these two worlds can and should co-exist. David tells us Heals have had enormous success during the pandemic in connecting on-line customers with in-store teams. On-line customers can speak to a relevant member of the team with knowledge and passion. It’s the solution to today’s ‘Paradox of Choice’. Building trust and value by guiding customers through a hugely complex purchase journey is something best done person to person.


Embracing virtual and physical spaces also solves another perennial problem. How do you express ‘special’ in a digital environment? David says this is an area that Heals have found particularly difficult. Demonstrating the exceptional tactile qualities of a piece of furniture in a small two dimensional image is impossible and can mean decisions are more likely to be made on cost rather than quality. At this point in the buying journey a physical experience creates that ‘special’ moment that can really tip the balance.


David feels making your brand special requires a different marketing perspective. A braver outlook. One that goes beyond today’s obsession with performance marketing and death by metrics to something that tells stories, that creates experiences, that connects people with people and puts business back at the heart of communities.


In conclusion it’s agreed by both Debbie and David that post pandemic ‘purpose and meaning’ will drive the biggest change in retail for many years to come. Those that don’t take heed beware! David says do not be seduced by bells, whistles and shiny tech. This is about what will add the most value to your customers in their path to purchase and that often involves a mix of virtual and physical experiences. At We Are Acuity we've seen this approach bring success in a range of sectors including Automotive which has often been lambasted as being old fashioned and slow moving.


David’s current heroes of retail? Timpsons. The ultimate in caring about their staff and customers and positioning themselves as true members of the local community. How about bigger purchasing decisions? Then there’s Sofology who David feels perfectly blend the worlds of on-line and off-line to create the ideal customer buying experience. David we salute you, you are a true hero of local business! #savelocalbusiness


If you’d like to watch the full panel discussion, it’s available here https://youtu.be/sTY4X3lebsc. If you’d like to discuss using local marketing to leverage the value of you sales outlets, whether franchises, dealers, retailers or affiliates give us a call today or try asking these 10 questions to your marketing agency https://www.weareacuity.com/10-questions-you-might-want-to-ask-your-agency.

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