Earlier this week we hosted the second event in our series, The Future of Retail. The webinar brought together experts from across a variety of industries to discuss the ever-evolving challenges and opportunities for retail. Elevate MD, Emma Kelly was joined by Alex Calder, Creative Lead at Strong Roots, Ciara Elliott, editor of House and Home Magazine, Ayuba Salaudeen, co-owner of Tola Vintage, Miriam Simon, founder of retail consultancy PTO.ie, and Sonya Lennon designer, entrepreneur and consultant. The panel weighed up affects of the Coronavirus pandemic on retail, gave us a vision for the future and suggestions for brands to thrive. Here is an overview of five insights we took away from the conversation:
- Coronavirus Catalyst
Coronavirus has pushed many trends that were already in motion into hyper speed. Brexit business strategies are now coalescing with pandemic resilience efforts, challenging supply chain logistics and creating widespread uncertainty. On a positive side, a long overdue expansion of food delivery services has finally taken shape in Ireland. Belief-driven buyers have, more and more, become the norm. The backdrop of this global crisis has amplified this as the ethical shortcoming of many big players such as Amazon and BooHoo cause lasting alarm. Without the distractions of ‘life as usual’ people have been more tuned in than ever, opting for brands that they wholeheartedly believe in. As Alex Calder notes, ‘authenticity and transparency will be more important than ever.’
- Local Energy
Lifestyle shifts like a move away from commuting was, as Miriam Simon suggests, ‘coming in this decade anyway’ as younger generations were becoming progressively skeptical of the value of spending hours in traffic. COVID forced businesses to adapt overnight. Now with considerations about carbon emissions still looming, it is unlikely that we will return to the unquestioned mass commuting when the pandemic subsides. This has implications for where people will ultimately choose to shop, presenting an opportunity for smaller, local high streets. As people were constrained to limited radiuses from home during the initial stages of lockdown, we’ve seen this pattern already emerge. However local businesses will need to adapt quickly to capitalise on this dynamic shift, especially when it comes to leveraging technology. Ayuba Salaudeen was originally concerned about the prospects of his business when the pandemic struck, however, because of their agility and strong digital foundation, Tola Vintage’s online sales have been booming. There is a need for big business, local chambers of commerce and government to collaborate to support local business districts. As Sonya Lennon discusses, local businesses’ ability to sustain this resurfaced energy will have huge tangible benefits such as providing employment, empowering locals and bringing joy. The larger goal should be to ‘drive communities’ rather than simply ‘acquire customers.’
- Considered Shoppers
The pandemic has shown us that people have become, out of necessity, more deliberate with their shopping trips—planning ahead, rather than browsing and more aware of what they actually need. They are also increasingly privy to the impacts of their consumption. Our panelists predict that along with the desire to shop more locally, a greater appreciation of artisan products, offerings within the circular economy, even beyond fashion, will become more mainstream.
- Blended Futures
According to our experts, we are already fully immersed in the age of ‘digital first’ businesses. For some brands the pandemic has exposed their need to quickly get up to speed with this. However, now we must also have our visions set on what’s next. For Miriam Simon, ‘The Future is Blended’ in terms of channels and models. Social commerce is set to rule social media, and subscription based models will reach even greater prominence. Inevitably another part of this must be reimagining the role of the physical retail space. Sonya Lennon believes brands would be wise to nearly ‘start from a blank slate’ when going about this. Whether that is creating ‘touch-free’ shopping to ease pandemic anxiety or providing the customer with unexpected delights such as vintage pop-ups or artisan collaborations, we must give customers a retail experience worthy of the emotional investment they make when setting out on a shopping trip.
- Agile Customer Strategy
Alex Calder shares that her creative team at Strong Roots have gone through more iterations of new campaigns in the last six weeks than they have in the previous six months. Ayuba Salaudeen reports that Tola Vintage has pivoted their focus from Temple Bar tourists, to the needs and tastes of an increasingly local base of consumers. Paramount to a brands success will be their closeness to their consumers. And their ability to keep this understanding up to date. We’ve watched the high street retail brands struggling to forge motivating USPs slip for years. The pandemic has dealt the final blow to many who Ciara Elliott points out, ‘were on their last legs anyway.’ It has never been more important for brands to carve out distinct identities. To stay competitive going into the future, brands need to clearly ‘set out their stall’ and offer customers a compelling message to buy into.
For all the details, the full video recording of the webinar is available. Remember to stay up to date with Elevate News to hear about other upcoming events in our trends series, including the Future of Entertainment, The Future of Travel and Hospitality and the Future of Wellness and Beauty later this year.