How brands and retailers can bounce back in the wake of Covid-19

It’s been over a year since restrictions began and with lockdowns slowly easing, we are now on a hopeful path to normality. Working and living has changed significantly, resulting in a 74% increase in online shopping (The Drum). As retailers in the UK reopen this week, we explore the importance of branding and digital in a new chapter for this sector.

A decline in OOH advertising has meant branding and digital promotion has been more important than ever. Companies have had to move quickly to accommodate the shift to digital channels. For many, we saw the acceleration of ecommerce, while established stores, such as Debenhams, left the high street and made the switch to online only. Not only did stay at home rules boost social media usage, but they also influenced the way in which consumers use digital platforms, with a direct impact on how a brand is considered.

As retail trade has become more equally split between physical and digital channels, the pandemic has placed landlord-tenant relationships under strain. Retail centre landlords have had to adapt their approaches to accommodate struggling tenants. Many are reducing rent or delaying payment collections whilst others are utilising shopping centre spaces to increase capacity for logistics and click-and-collect services.

Consumer expectations for safer, digitalised shopping experiences are growing, with convenience set to be a top priority. Enticing customers back into physical spaces will see brands consider both emotional and operational aspects – do consumers feel safe returning and how can the store be designed to create a safe, positive shopping experience?

Technology will revolutionise retail spaces and there is a huge opportunity for innovation here. We can expect to see more touch free shopping, with an emphasis on reducing physical interactions and the emergence of ‘phygital’ strategies, where digital retail meets physical retail to deliver a better in-store experience. Shop design will be more streamlined and spacious with changed surfaces to minimise infection risk. VR and AR are slowly entering the retail space as brands will need to evolve their offering to align with current needs. Recently, luxury fashion house Burberry launched an interactive virtual replica of its flagship Tokyo store where shoppers can browse new collections, connecting their online and instore encounters. Similarly, online apparel giant Asos launched a new AR tool last year that allows shoppers to digitally ‘fit’ clothing items on different models. Immersive, engaging experiences that incorporate a virtual environment are likely to pop up increasingly often.

In a digital retail environment, where Google searches can by-pass the brand to deliver the cheapest or “best buy”, retailers must work hard to build a relationship with customers when they walk through the door, to inspire them and create an emotional connection and brand experience.

Strategic brand marketing tailored to this new retail environment should involve an easy to navigate online presence that compliments physical marketing efforts. Alignment of the in-store and online experience will be key for retailers.

Tapping into customer loyalty is more important than ever. Companies should ensure their brand tone of voice is reflected across all marketing collateral and branding experience, with both online and physical touch points reflecting this. We have witnessed an increased focus on e-commerce, with the need to deliver seamless interactions and create personalised experiences that solidify loyalty.

Ultimately, as we step into a new era of retail, brands whose online and in-store experiences complement one another are most likely to thrive.

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