Telecommunications expert Feilim Mackle discusses how retailers need to adopt a more personal approach to the customer journey to keep pace with 'Digital Britain'
With the recent spate of retail insolvencies, some have been quick to predict tumbleweed rolling through the UK High Street, but Feilim Mackle, sales and service director at O2
, doesn’t believe this image will ever become a reality.
He said we are witnessing a High Street transformation and, although one in three stores remains empty, recent figures from the Local Data Company
revealed the rate of shop closures across the UK has stabilised. "This should provide the respite our High Street retailers need to inject some vitality back into the retail sector," he commented.
However, the closure of a number of household names such as HMV and Blockbuster has demonstrated that no retailer, big or small, can ignore changing consumer habits. "I believe there are two key opportunities that retailers need to embrace if they are to survive," stated Mackle.
The digital opportunity
"Firstly, retail is evolving to a world where the experience of buying is becoming just as important as the product being sold, and the High Street of the future will be defined by the digital experiences that make our lives easier," he said.
Over the last decade, mobile technology has radically changed the way consumers behave. "Soaring smartphone usage and the mobile internet have fundamentally changed people’s expectations, allowing them to choose how and when they interact with brands," Mackle continued. "Customers want interaction on the move, whether that is browsing, buying, customer service or brand engagement."
Never before have we had as much choice in how and where we shop, he added. "It is no longer enough to simply showcase your products instore. The function of the retail environment today shouldn’t be just to sell, but to excite and inform customers so they keep coming back for more. Those retailers who bring the digital world to life in a physical space and offer customers a seamless, multichannel experience will ultimately inspire and excite people to buy their products and services."
He said the possibilities are endless and exciting – from enabling customers to pay for a new jumper in the changing room via their iPad in order to save queuing at the till, to sending customers personalised recommendations when they walk past their favourite shop.
The integrated environment
Mackle said that, secondly, businesses need to put customer service at their heart. "Despite the rapid pace of development, one thing hasn’t changed – customers expect businesses to get the basics right – and now demand to be able to reach retailers online, all the time," he commented. In addition, Forrester recently reported that customers now expect proactive outbound communication from companies.
But, when it comes to customer service, Mackle characterised the industry as one wedded to process, which can actually be cumbersome for the customer. "This needs to change," he said. "People now expect us to join up the dots between the different ways in which they contact us – in our shops, online or over the phone – and to deliver a consistent and engaging service tailored to their needs. This doesn’t mean simply creating digital executions instore, or having a high-functioning website, but instead uniting bricks and mortar with online to create an integrated environment."
He also said it was important not to shy away from engaging with customers on their level, and that this should be a given and not a bonus. "At O2 we’ve encouraged our people to challenge processes and help to re-design them to do what’s right for the customer. By using this insight to help tailor our services, we’re able to offer customers greater choice to engage with us in whichever way best suits their needs."
Businesses should deliver personalised, engaging and consistent experiences whenever and wherever customers interact with them, according to the O2 expert. "It’s clear the public still demands a physical presence on the High Street, but it is those that offer a more tailored experience, both instore and online, that will win out," he concluded.