Last week, I had the delight in attending Retail Week Live and the Retail Week Awards sponsored by Salesforce, in London. The UK’s sharpest and brightest retailers were there in their hundreds to share knowledge, learn and innovate. 

Powerful discussions were of no shortage, with debates surrounding the lines of A.I., shopper experience, and customer centricity.

Coming off an unbelievable event, here are my 3 themes for UK retailers looking to innovate to 2020: 

1. Data drive your personalisation

Stating that personalisation is the new imperative for shopper experiences is about as noteworthy as releasing last season’s fashion line. In the current affairs of Retail, this is...quite stale news. How you achieve that nuance, however, and the manner in which you go about it, is a crucial point of discussion and one that merits critical attention. 

Customer experience is the new battlefield, and predictive data is the key weapon.

In early days of personalisation, retailers would make assumptions based off a limited set of data, assumptions that garnered headlines like “Target knew teen was pregnant before parents did.” 

We can very easily make the same errors when it comes to customer behavioral data in store, online or in operational insights to our retail business. And since 89% of businesses are soon expected to compete mainly on customer experiences, this is a fairly big matter to get right. 

What exactly do you need in order to deliver a unique experience, tailored to your shopper’s needs when they need them? Where does it begin and end? How do you make sense of it, and how do you do it in real time with limited resource? 

Jamie Merrick, Director of Strategic Solutions at Salesforce and speaker at Retail Week Live, shared wise words of experience in delivering customer happiness: 

“Start with your foundation. Set yourself up to be able to adapt quickly. Use the data revolution to make your delivery of retail experience that much richer, and that much better.” 

The notion of personalising products and services to our customers is universally embraced, and yet it’s not always easy getting there. At Retail Week Live, various retailers expressed their next challenge to be, having not the right tools but the right focus, and alignment behind qualitative decisions going to market. 

Clear strategy and strong implementation of AI, customer data and industry analytics will set you apart. 

Spend time planning your strategy and aligning internal stakeholders on how you use your data. Invest in the right platform that integrates, unifies and enables innovation. 

2. Be a student of your customer 

Mike Coupe, Chief Executive at Sainsbury’s, was one of my favourite speakers to listen to at Retail Week Live. Aside from the charismatic stage presence and notable ease through which he delivered his keynote, making one feel awakened and receptive both at the same time, Mr. Coupe offered a refreshing take on retailers scaling for growth in the post Brexit UK. Common sense values, coupled with a subtle pulse of innovation, defined his three pillars of success:

  1. Never stop knowing your customers
  2. Happy employees make the difference between good and excellence
  3. Great products and services  

“Know your customers better than anyone else. Be there for your customers. Anticipate before they need to voice their need, in a non-intrusive way.”

Mr. Coupe’s point on customer brings us to my second key. Understanding your customer on an intrinsic level is hardly a revelation to write home about. Everyone knows it is impossible to know what a customer wants without firstly understanding that customer on a deep level. 

But a guilty habit exists that retailers are shy to admit, and that is: from time to time, we get a bit comfortable. Not all the time, and rarely to extreme circumstance, but every now and then we think we know. We’ve put in the time, we analysed last quarter, and our past successes prove we know what we’re doing, so let’s crack on with Marketing, Operations, and Customer Service as we intuitively know. 

Never could we be so self indulgently wrong. 

Studies prove a continued disparity between what we think our customers want us to do, and what our customers ACTUALLY want us to do. 

Building the right customer relationships is a time investing, continuously evolving, dynamic, and the minute we permit ourselves to sit back and assume, we lose. 

3. Rebel against boring

Chris-Brook-Carter, Head of Retail Week, captured it best when he said, “Retail is the most human of industries”. 

One of the unique and rewarding sides to being a retailer is that you have the ability to get closer to your customer than other industries. You, your shopper, and your peers are bonded by the same primal instinct that we are all consumers, on some level - and as a consumer, you understand that the last thing you want is to be served the same old tired experience, time and time again. 

As further stressed in the wisdom of Mike Coup during his keynote: “Retailers have a responsibility to create and innovate, and to rebel against boring experiences”.

If customer experience is the new battlefield in business, then retailers must do everything possible to set themselves up for differentiation, and relate with their customers on an instinctive, human level.

No longer is it acceptable to have just a great product and service; these need to be delivered in a connected, emotive experience.

Be blue in a room full of red. Be the rebel against dull. Fail fast and do not be afraid to experiment.  Bring your shoppers on a journey. 

Morrisons and Amazon are good examples here. Last year, the tech retailers teamed up to deliver Amazon Fresh in the UK, and made headlines around the world with their success. Each used technology to experiment and drive creative customer centricity to new heights.

In summary

It is truly an exhilarating time to be a retailer in the UK. Unpredictable, disruptive, and big potential for opportunity. 

To uncover the biggest shopper trends that are driving today’s retailers, download our Connected Shopper report, or get in touch to learn how Salesforce is helping retailers.