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The challenges in the ‘normalisation’ of retail marketing

So as the world looks to accelerate the post-peak recovery, it seems the ever-changing world of retail must change again. Inevitably, customer confidence has taken something of a battering. Shopping visits are taking longer and queuing has become the norm. Grocery shelves have been spartan in certain departments. One way systems, social distancing, no assisted packing, the demise of cash; the list goes on. For many of us, shopping has become less of a pleasure and more of a chore. And in my household at least, the weekly spend on food has markedly increased as the price-led offers have diminished.

When you put aside the necessity of keeping the household stocked with the weekly essentials, there is clear evidence that shopping also has a valuable social function in our lives. The chance to interact with others. To seek ideas and inspiration. I never forget the focus group attendee from my days in Research. When I asked a focus group about their shopping habits, one lady casually mentioned that she loved visiting M&S. She only rarely bought anything, but she loved to see what recipe ideas she could ‘borrow’ from their pre-prepared meals.

Retail brands have long been under pressure to provide their customers with unique experiences. Experiential events like in-store sampling for example. Fashion shows in shopping centres. The need for social distancing may make some of these tactics challenging to implement. So how can brands express their personality and engage with their customers? The local farm shop near to MRM HQ has utilised that old technique of lining its now ubiquitous pre-shop queue with set displays of bedding plants and seeds. Sensibly priced, they make for easy impulse purchases. Sainsbury has been handing out umbrellas to give their shoppers some protection from the elements. The good weather has helped but it boosts customer confidence to engage with something that isn’t just humourless diktats on how you have to undertake your shop.

Technology has an important role to play. I’ve seen a number of supermarkets urging me to download their app to enable me to self-scan and pay using my own mobile device. Loyalty schemes too. My barber has utilised the power of his social media and app to implore customers to pre-purchase gift vouchers; providing him with some welcome income and giving purchasers first dibs on booking a haircut when they eventually open up again. And who doesn’t like a bit of ‘surprise and delight’ from brands who recognise your loyalty. Managing such campaigns has certainly kept us busy at MRM over the past 3 months.

The public is beginning to demand greater sustainability from brands. Quite a challenge at a time when people are sensitive to consumables being appropriately packaged to protect them from the virus. And supply chain transparency has never felt more relevant than now, enabling brands and retailers to provide reassurance on compliance.

Marketing spend has historically been one of the first things to get cut in recessionary times. Yet the reality of now is the opportunity it offers brands to refocus spend and demonstrate brand purpose and personality through their tactical agility in using all channels, particularly social media. Our household engaged with a Brewdog tweet & signed up to order some Barnard Castle Eye Test – a new topical brew named after consulting with social media followers, with sales proceeds going to the NHS.

Integration of the physical and the digital will be key for bricks and mortar models. The age of showrooming has never been more important. I love the example seen in a Lithuanian café of clothed mannequins placed on chairs to not only maintain social distance but promote the wares of local clothing retailers. Undoubtedly one of the potentially longer lasting strategic impacts of Covid will be the move to embrace e-commerce. Data from ChannelAdvisor and Dynata suggests 2 in 5 UK shoppers will make more online purchases post lockdown. As part of the many marketing services we offer here at MRM, we are increasingly providing our clients with front end capability in e-commerce (both in off the shelf packages and our own bespoke scalable platform) alongside integration with our order management and despatch system.

We are always delighted to advise any clients on their next steps in leveraging online sales and how we can best integrate with the systems you already have (or new ones you wish to develop). Do drop us a line at sales@mrm.co.uk or give us a call on 01858 414777. Happy shopping.

This article is written by Marc Rigby, Managing Director at Multi Resource Marketing Ltd (MRM)