How are we navigating through this new business reality?
JC: "Within the AIS Membership, we look after over 180 fashion retailers and one of our key strengths as bricks & mortar indies is our personal approach to customer service. Even though our stores are closed, they are in regular digital contact with their customers and are actively maintaining strong links to their local communities via online forums and chat groups. In return they are receiving an unprecedented level of collective support from them"
AA: "The joy of being part of a Membership is that you are never alone! The nature of our business means that our retailers always have a large network of support to turn to and a huge resource pool for sharing ideas. Consequently, during this crisis we’ve seen our community really pull together which has resulted in blue-sky thinking and some very innovative examples of how to stay connected! I've seen shop window display challenges, virtual catwalks and online customer competitions such a 'best store-front drawing' and ‘guess the local landmark’"
FD: "Digital communication has definitely been key for retailers over the last few months but as Amanda touched on, the focus is about staying connected and the message is community spirited rather than with an endgame of driving sales. Our Members have had to adapt how they engage with their customers without losing the essence of the face-to-face customer focus they are renowned for. As Andrew Goodacre, head of BIRA, said last week, 'Brave customer-focused retailers who work closely with others in their community are most likely to survive in post-lockdown UK'”
VC: "Social Media is playing a huge part in keeping retailers and customers connected and it’s important for our Members to keep engaging with their communities in whatever way they can. Despite the challenges we're all facing there have been some really positive news stories being shared which has reinforced a stronger sense of community – something that independent retail has always been at the heart of"
Q: How do you think bricks & mortar indies can plan to future-proof their business?
AA: "Our Members and the wider independent sector can capitalise on their more personable approach to retailing and their unrivalled customer focus. Creating a strong community and offering an ‘experience’ to their customers is key – retailers shouldn’t be afraid to let customers see the faces behind the business, engage them and focus on customer experience"
FD: "Technology has played a huge part for retailers during lockdown, whether it be online trading or using it to build on the interaction they have with their customer base. Although I think we’ll see some indies investing in their omnichannel offering, many will choose to invest to further realise the benefits of social media to encourage customers in store. Social platforms will be key to communication and customer engagement but when it comes to purchasing fashion, nothing beats the touch and feel of product!"
JC: "It’s clear that online retail has enjoyed success during the lockdown but following such a long period of enforced isolation I think people will be desperate to get out and go shopping! I’d like to think that indies could do well out of this, as people may avoid going into city centres and large shopping malls, opting instead to stay and support their local shops and high streets"
VC: "This is the perfect time for shops to reflect on their product offer and to ring any changes. Lockdown is allowing retailers to refocus their business and plan for a future that doesn’t necessarily echo the past. Now is the time to think about diversifying, source new brands, seek out new categories and garner existing customer opinion. I may be biased but with the predicted baby boom, I can foresee a lot more retailers looking to stock kidswear going forward!"