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Retail Reflections: getting discovered on the high street and the value of data

Alan Monahan writes: Save the High Street deserves a pat on the back for making so much useful information freely available to retailers, even if they aren’t members.

Given that it costs nothing to join and there are special offers for those with independent local shops, I would have thought that being a part of this excellent campaign is a no-brainer. But I digress.

The organisation’s High Street Conference brought together members of its Retailer Advisory Board as well as representatives of industry-leading retail companies. They had plenty to say about the importance of data in retail; the opportunities for getting discovered on the high street, and the options to help retailers fulfil their customers’ needs.

It was rightly pointed out that while a lot can be understood about a business through experience – retailers know what people buy and when – it certainly helps to back this up with statistics.

Some of you will have EPOS systems which allow you to track your sales and stock, with data analytics providing you with the numbers to support your decisions going forward.

Similarly, integrating customer data from sources such as your website or EPOS system offers the opportunity, in advertising, to focus on the kind of consumer that’s looking for your products.

As Save the High Street says: ‘Modern marketing isn’t about mass-reach: you need to target the interested few that are going to be enticed into your store, by your advertising. Using data to make your advertising more effective means your marketing budget can go further.’

I enjoyed its description of the internet as being ‘like a great theatre, full of performances and with an audience of millions’. But while the Retailer Advisory Board panellists concluded that the web really can help to acquire more customers, ‘you can’t just turn up and expect to be an overnight hit’. Their message was: put in the work to attract an audience and continue to engage your viewers online to keep them coming back.

Those of you looking for encouragement may wish to click on the SaveTheHighStreet.org website and listen to Rowena Howie, of Revival Retro Boutique, talking about how she grew her Instagram following into tens of thousands, which in turn won her more bricks-and-mortar business.

Today’s consumers do have very high expectations of retailers. And with every big chain offering delivery – and most click-and-collect, too – independents need to stay competitive. Thanks to expanding delivery services and advances in payment technology, many are being just that.

Higher inflation hit UK retail sales, which fell by 0.3% in October from a year earlier, the first annual drop since March 2013, the Office for National Statistics reported. And although October sales rose 0.3% from the previous month, this was apparently down to strong sales in charity shops, auction houses and antiques and fine art dealers.

Commenting on the figures, Rachel Lund, head of insight and analytics at the British Retail Consortium, observed that a good October last year did make it harder to outperform this year. ‘But that’s not the whole story. UK retailers are feeling the impact of the consumer spending squeeze. In fact, when we strip out growth in spending on fuel, retail sales volumes barely grew on the previous month – a month in which sales fell.’

Meanwhile, the UK and Switzerland were the only countries not to see a year-on-year uplift in traffic into stores and shopping centres, according to ShopperTrak’s European Trends Report of third quarter activity.

As it says, politically it’s been a turbulent period in the region: Spain suffering terrorist attacks in Barcelona’s busiest shopping area in August and new governments reviewing economic policy in Italy, Ireland and France, with Brexit also looming large across these economies.

In light of this climate, ‘retailers did very well to achieve an overall +0.5% rise, with Italy, Poland and Spain the big winners.