Oh Crap, Amazon: Where to (and what) next for retailers?
Jeanswest and Bose are the latest big-name retailers pulling back in Australia. They following contractions announced by EB Games, Bardot, and the shuttering of Harris Scarfe in December. Is this a continuation of an industry in terminal decline, or a wake-up call that finally jolts retailers into action?
- Jeanswest to close 146 stores with up to 988 jobs at risk, and Bose to close all 19 Australian stores as well as others in the US and elsewhere.
- Online doesn’t mean the end of stores as we know them - but the online/in-store balance is more complex than “either/or”.
- Consumers aren’t fickle - in fact, they’re well-informed, and they now control the brand conversation (and have for some time).
- Retailers need new ways to get hold of the data they need, understand what it tells them, and then act.
- Simplicity and speed are everything - inputs must be comprehensive, easy to assimilate, and in real-time.
Retailers shuttering stores continues a trend fuelled by low wage growth, international competition, an arguably stagnant economy, and ever-changing consumer buying preferences and habits.
The solution to how retail businesses can survive these industry realities remains as hard as ever: differentiate in a noisy, disrupted marketplace, and do so in real-time. And the way to do this is to use data in new ways.
Retailers need to understand their consumers in-store and online in increasing detail, which is where the devil is. They must track any number of influences and preferences that drive sales, trends in engagement, add-to-cart behaviour, and track what peers and friends recommend to consumers.
I can’t speak for organisations, including Jeanswest and Bose, that we don’t work with, but I can talk about the experiences of retailers we do work with.
One is Oh Crap, a company in business to save the planet one dog-poop bag at a time with compostable doggy bags. It uses social and search analytics to review and refine its digital marketing strategy on two-week cycles. The data it collects - community views, clicks, search terms and conversation - means it knows exactly where paid media investment works best. The upshot is that on more than one occasion, the company has pivoted away from poorly-executed strategies. Stock deliveries have grown from 30,000 to 3 million doggy doo-doo bags over 18 months as a result.
Another is Easy Living Footwear, a mixed store-online footwear retailer that runs four stores across regional NSW. It has increased sales by 59 per cent, transactions by 66 per cent, and online sales by 86 per cent (Oct-Dec 2019 versus Oct-Dec 2018) by testing, measuring and refining its social and digital content, and by engaging with customers online and in-store.
Both these retailers are different: in their approach to retailing (mixed versus online), their product (comfortable shoes with a fashionable edge versus dog-poop bags), and their customer demographics. But three things unite them: they use data to understand their customers, they use that data to plan sales and engagement strategies, and they use that data to put their customers first.
One thing is certain: the Australian retail sector remains disrupted (with Amazon still gearing up). Yet even the degree of gloom varies: A UBS report forecasts online to account for around 12 per cent of retail spending by 2024, up from around 9 per cent this year (17 per cent excluding food). That’s below original forecasts of about 14 per cent, and online margins are set to improve, according to the report. In other words, stores are by no means dead.
Retail has always been about customers’ buying preferences. What’s changed is how retailers get hold of, and act on, that information. Focus on that, across all data inputs, and across online and store activity and data, and retailers can still prevail - and thrive.