After 12 months of disruption for retail, physical stores are reopening – eagerly, but with caution. Businesses are still adapting, with many changed forever. That’s no bad thing when retailers which previously relied on in-person experiences have seen year-on-year online revenue growth of up to 200%.

At Innovate Together, our celebration of digital innovation, we heard remarkable stories from two trailblazers who successfully pivoted to omnichannel retail at lightning speed during the pandemic – engaging with their customers in new ways. 

Mike Broughton, Business Development and IT Director at Furniture Village, described how his company harnessed the power of live chat and made creative use of their locked-down stores.

Alison Hutchinson CBE, CEO of Pennies, explained how the award-winning fintech charity has made it easier for merchants to do better for society, and allow customers to be part of that difference.


The future’s not just digital

Increasingly, consumers are using multiple online channels  for their purchases. With much of the country locked down, and with non-essential retail closed, this demand has intensified further.

The shock of the pandemic accelerated changes that are now irreversible:

  • Customers are now digital-first.

  • They are experimenting with more channels.

  • Brands must replicate the in-store experience in a virtual, contactless manner.

Businesses which relied on face-to-face transactions have accelerated years of digital change into months by taking their retail multichannel. The results speak for themselves: orders from social media platforms alone were up 100% year on year.


From in-store to online

Brands need to take their retail omnichannel and provide more than a simple online checkout. So, how are they duplicating the in-store experience digitally? 

One way, according to Broughton, is through effective use of live chat. By training already highly-skilled in-store staff to use Salesforce live chat capabilities, Broughton’s team can replicate in-store rapport and drive sales further. 

What’s more, they can use the insights gleaned to employ more staff at busier periods, monitor sales conversations, provide coaching and feedback, and gather customer responses quickly. 


Bridging the gap

Keeping selected stores open enabled Furniture Village to bridge the digital and physical worlds through video consultations. Customers could chat with staff, and see products in a real store, in real-time, from home.

“The expertise of our salespeople combined with the live chat function on Commerce Cloud led to fabulously rich conversations. This enabled us to pull people into a video conference, and cross- and upsell based on what they could see in the store.”


The rise of conscious consumption

The relationship between business and buyer continues to evolve, fuelled in part by the rise of the conscious consumer: 61% of customers in our research are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases.

And it’s not only consumers. Shareholders, investors and colleagues all want to see positive steps to support Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG).

“It’s no longer ok for retailers to just get the product and customer service right and deliver for shareholders,” explains Hutchinson. “[ESG] used to be secondary. Now it’s fundamental.”


Plug, play and donate

Pennies, a micro-donation company which has digitised dropping coins into charity boxes, undertook most of its pre-pandemic fundraising by card, at checkout.

With 80% of its partners’ doors shut overnight, Pennies and customers pivoted to mobile and e-commerce in record time. Fast forward to the end of 2020 and the company has seen an increase of 6% in donation volume.

“We’ve had more new merchants join us over the last year as they realise customers want to give back to their communities. They don’t necessarily have the resources, time or money to do it – and Pennies makes it easy for them.”

One reason for this ease, Hutchinson explains, is the simplicity of the Salesforce Commerce Cloud cartridge, which allows merchants to “plug and play”. The business considers which charity fits their brand – and Pennies takes care of the rest.

“The consumer and retailer response has been phenomenal. We could be at the beginning of a legacy of giving which none of us ever imagined possible.”


The new normal

It’s heartening to see positive outcomes after a tumultuous year. And, with stores reopening, Broughton is eager to test out applications, developed during lockdown, which combine both physical and digital elements.

Given the rate of innovation and change over the last twelve months, however, Hutchinson questions the notion of a new normal at all: “For me, things are going to keep changing. That’s the expectation everybody now has.”


Whatever the future holds, the following is clear:

  • Consumer behaviour has shifted to digital-first, forever.

  • Brands must replicate the in-store retail customer experience  online, or lose out to those that do.

  • Businesses must be the change they hope to see in the world.


Find out in more depth how they successfully implemented this digital transformation, at pace, and how what they discovered can also help your business. Watch it here.