The Covid-19 pandemic has had an undeniable and significant impact on the retail industry. Few among us will have failed to notice the closure of physical stores in our towns and cities. Forbes reported that more than 15,500 retailers closed their brick-and-mortar stores in 2020 alone – a figure that has risen steadily since 2010. Those in the sector have been forced to pivot – accommodating rapid change and disruption as customers make different retail decisions – and adapting marketing tactics to suit.
Next-generation retail marketing strategy is focused on improving the customer experience. Customers, who are already capable of purchasing through an assortment of channels, exercise considerable control over their path to purchase. In order for businesses to remain relevant and profitable in this consumer-centric retail space, marketing efforts will need to be adaptable, data-driven and innovative, engineering memorable and hassle-free shopping experiences.
Retail marketing trends for 2022
Retail marketing refers to the strategies, initiatives and techniques used by companies to increase sales, brand awareness and return on investment.
There are several key retail marketing trends that marketers should be aware of for the year ahead:
- Eliminating delayed gratification – with the advent of overnight delivery and even same-day shipping, today’s consumers expect orders to be fulfilled as quickly as possible. To deliver on these expectations, retailers must develop agile fulfilment operations – forecasting demand, tracking purchase cycles and implementing tight stock inventory.
- Leverage experiences powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – AI and machine learning enable companies to develop personalised consumer recommendations based on real-time needs. For example, large grocery websites now use data to track past purchases and purchase-cycle patterns – such as market basket analysis – to present customers with a pre-prepared grocery order. For the consumer, this makes the process quicker and easier; for the retailer, this secures orders and can lead to increased retail sales.
- Social media e-commerce shopping – many social media platforms now feature e-commerce functionality, such as Instagram’s Shop tab, bringing the shopping experience directly to consumers during their leisure time. Such platforms are increasingly dominated by social media influencer-based marketing, where brands enter partnerships with chosen content creators for sponsored posts and affiliate marketing. Data and algorithms from social channels also offer retail businesses opportunities to gain valuable, actionable insights into target audiences to further aid personalisation and sales conversions.
- Transparency and values-based branding – More than ever, consumers seek to associate with brands who align with their personal values – for example, use of sustainable materials and manufacturing, fair treatment of workers, or percentage of profits to charitable causes. They demand transparency; retailers who do not comply could face reputational damage and losses to brand equity – and word of mouth travels fast.
- Retailers engaging in omnichannel marketing – a business with a well-developed omnichannel marketing plan will be better positioned to reach target customers across the entire product lifecycle and achieve higher conversion rates. Associated marketing tools include Google Ads, social media advertisements, banners and referrals.
Other predicted trends include socially integrated visualised search, shopping assistance via smart home speakers and chatbots, and streamlining online and offline experiences for hyper-personalisation, to name a few. Whatever trend marketers pursue, one thing is constant: the need to continuously adapt to the ever-changing marketing landscape in order to maintain an existing customer base, attract new customers, and press the competitive advantage.
Marketing techniques in the digital space
Amazon – household name and company with one of the highest global revenues – is the immediate success story that springs to mind when we think of e-commerce websites. While not every online retailer will reach such astronomical heights, e-commerce remains big business: Shopify reported that the global e-commerce market was expected to total $4.89 trillion in 2021.
Clearly, brands that do not yet operate online stores stand to lose significant sales and market share. If you are an e-tailer, or marketing professional looking to maximise the effectiveness of your website, there are a number of digital marketing tools to incorporate as part of your retail strategy. It starts with the basics: optimising the site layout for the best user experience – intuitive user journeys, surfacing of most-relevant content, ensuring it’s accessible and mobile-friendly – and regularly updating it with engaging, original content that matters to consumers. These elements all affect how well a site ranks in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – a critical factor in how easily it is found through search engines such as Google, affecting how many consumers will arrive at your site through organic search.
Marketing campaigns across the digital sphere can then be implemented to drive traffic to the website. Depending on the target demographic and chosen marketing mix, these could include:
- Social media marketing, e.g. Facebook ads (now known as Meta), the use of influencers posting sponsored content to their Instagram stories and other social media channels
- Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)
- Email marketing
- SMS marketing
Digital marketing often works by creating a sense of urgency among potential customers to generate more clicks and conversions. Adverts and pop-ups in newsfeeds can highlight flash sales featuring low prices, “early bird” discounts, referral fees and release of new products.
Marketing techniques for brick-and-mortar retail stores
While many of the digital content marketing tactics apply to physical businesses, there are also other factors to consider.
Local businesses rely on eye-catching window displays and storefronts to set them apart from competitors, often employing visual merchandising professionals to encourage foot traffic and convey the right brand concepts. Similarly to developing an appealing and effective online user experience, optimising the customer’s in-store experience of a physical store is paramount.
- Training employees to provide excellent customer service
- Maintaining an attractive and well-organised environment
- Using up-to-date technology
- Operating good inventory control
- Hosting in-store events – such as author reading and signings in bookstores
- Grassroots marketing strategies such as offering samples and branded merchandise
- Ensuring that “hero” products or those on special offer are positioned front and centre
There are numerous psychology-based, tried-and-and-true strategies for encouraging cross-selling, maximising profit, delivering excellent customer experience and gaining customer loyalty.
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