Why retailers (and their technology) need to be at their most flexible to grow in 2019

Posted by Sarah Taylor on Wed, Jan 09, 2019

Improving your athletic ability is something we’re used to seeing on personal New Year’s resolution lists, but less so on the business agenda. However, increasing their level of flexibility could be exactly what retailers need to prioritise if they want to keep growing in a challenging trading environment.

But what exactly does flexible retail mean for businesses in 2019, and which retailers are already proving there’s profit in an innovative approach to expansion? Let’s take a closer look…

Hitting the High Street
Although it feels like we’re repeatedly warned of the High Street’s decline, there are major growth opportunities out there for retail brands that know their product proposition and have a clearly defined customer base.

A good example of a retailer bucking bricks-and-mortar expectations is Joe Browns. The fashionwear company built its empire on mail order before launching an ecommerce presence, so a few industry eyebrows were raised when it announced the launch of a flagship store in Meadowhall shopping centre, Sheffield, just over a year ago.

Fast forward to late 2018 and Joe Browns’ leap of faith is clearly starting to pay off. Speaking at the Direct Commerce Association Autumn Conference, founder Simon Brown noted that online sales in the towns and cities near Meadowhall – Derby, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham and Sheffield – have increased by 28% in the last 12 months, and the retailer is now planning up to five further store openings.

What makes the Joe Browns story interesting is the way in which bricks-and-mortar is enhancing its multi-channel offering. Adding a physical store to its set-up has created a tangible touchpoint for consumers to explore its products. And in a flexible retail environment, this isn’t the only way in which a High Street Hub can support digital activities.

Connecting bricks and clicks
An increasing number of retailers are looking to their store network to enhance online sales, by leveraging their stock availability across the entire estate. Many retailers now do this in part through click & collect – which 72% of online shoppers are already using, according to Forbes data – but adding on ship from store capabilities can complete their offering by enabling store stock to be sold online.

A good example of successful online/offline integration is Beaverbrooks. The jewellery retailer recently added ship from store and click and collect technology that enables it to leverage stock from across its 70 UK stores, fulfilling from any location to offer a more efficient, impressive customer experience. We’ve got a solution for our customers where they can choose to shop in store, or online, or on a mobile, or a laptop, or a combination of all those things,” Beaverbrooks’ chairman, Mark Adlestone, noted in a recent article on Professional Jeweller.

As Beaverbrooks demonstrates, by putting in place the systems that enable greater agility and adaptability, retailers are truly placing customer experience at the centre of their business by giving them the flexibility to buy anywhere, deliver anywhere and return anywhere.

When it comes to diversifying their business model in 2019, for many retailers the choice won’t just be bricks-and-mortar versus ecommerce. An increasing number are looking at ways in which they can tap into online shopping trends, to get their brand seen (and products purchased) across more digital touchpoints than ever before.

Going to market
It’s not just direct ecommerce sites creating new sales opportunities, either. Retailers are broadening their presence by embracing marketplaces – lifestyle brand owner Kingstown Associates has added £500,000 to its revenue total for the past 12 months by launching on eBay and Amazon – and there are many emerging marketplaces seeing significant growth. Latest statistics show that Jet.com has added 3.6 million new members in the past year, Flipkart has seen user rates soar by 73%, and Rakuten has more than doubled its customer base to 106 million online shoppers.

Additionally, brands are taking the marketplace model and applying it in a collaborative e-tail context, launching a digital presence on other retailers’ websites in the same way they might operate store concessions. A good example of this is the growing roster of brands available through Next’s website. Having showcased fashion and sportswear brands including adidas, Boden and Lipsy for several years, in September 2018 Next added over 100 homewear brands to its product line-up, in order to strategically scale its third-party brand offering. 

Let’s get more flexible
The retail market hasn’t been plain sailing in 2018 and nor will it be in 2019, but Mandeep Singh – CEO of boutique online marketplace, Trouva – summed up the conditions perfectly in a recent Marketing Week article: “disruption always creates opportunity for those who are going to be different and it’s two sides of the same coin. When others are struggling it creates opportunities for people who are going to be different and creative.”

That difference and creativity will come, for many retailers, by thinking flexibly about how to grow their business. We’ve focused mainly on channel opportunities in this blog post – we haven’t touched on international expansion, which merits its own separate discussion – but the one thing common to all retail growth strategies is the need for agile solutions to enable business development.
Too many retailers are constricted by the limitations of their current business system. To diversify their growth model flexibly and effectively, they need their operational processes to be connected in every channel, but few have the technology backbone to achieve this. Without the right infrastructure, or by trying to integrate disparate systems to make growth possible, the customer experience is only going to suffer – and that’s not good news for anybody.

As experts in multi-channel retail growth, this is something that we at Sanderson Multi-Channel Retail Solutions Ltd. find incredibly frustrating, especially when we see the dynamic expansion being pioneered by our customers, such as Joe Browns, Beaverbrooks and Kingstown Associates.

Our New Year’s Resolution is to empower more retailers to go after growth opportunities, wherever they may be, safe in the knowledge that they have the single view of customers, channels and stock their business needs to uphold and enhance the customer experience. The role of our technology in 2019 is to empower flexible retail.

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Topics: Multi-Channel Software, Multi-Channel Retail, Lean Retailing, Improving retail operations