By Amelia Beattie, Chief Executive, Liberty Two Degrees

 

Over a year ago, only a few could have predicted that the coronavirus would spread widely, and spiral into a global pandemic, cause a recession and change the trajectory of many retail businesses. This has caused a massive shift, and the pandemic’s impact has forced the sector to quickly adapt, abruptly enforcing a no point of return. It is, however, not all doom and gloom for smart retail. In fact, it offers opportunities in the recreation of customer experience post the pandemic. 

 

 

The Omnichannel approach

 

The first of these opportunities is striking the balance between rediscovering human contact in brick and mortar and maximising the online experience through an omnichannel approach. While some may hold the view that the rise of e-commerce will eliminate the physical store, this is not quite the reality, locally.  In fact, a slightly different take is seen with foot count in quality well positioned malls increasing, as people still look to this space to drive an overall lifestyle experience.  As a result, we need to consider and re-examine how the digital and physical world join forces – with agility at the fore. 

To survive and thrive in this newfound reality, the first step is to maximise insight obtained from smart data solutions, with opportunities to be delivered alongside traditional experiential strategies. In addition, a proliferation of digital solutions that bring the much sought-after convenience and frictionless experiences to customers and enhance operational efficiencies of tenants is key.    

 

 

A consistent customer experience 

 

The expectation for customer experience to be consistent across all touchpoints, to ensure customer needs are being met wherever interaction occurs with brands, has been a long-standing one, exacerbated by the pandemic. An environmentally sustainable approach to the customer experience journey, that considers the impact of the environment forms part and parcel. Building tomorrow together with customers, both tenants and shoppers, to make a positive and impactful change is an important opportunity to grasp and a critical focus if we are to reduce the footprint on the natural environment in line with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals by 2030. 

 

Agility and Adaptability 

 

Creating robust assets that can benefit generations, allowing for agile and adaptable environments that align to net zero goals is vital and one that the sector should consider in policy making. Behavioural change is a significant driver of minimising environmental impact and facilitating awareness. For tenants, green leases which govern energy efficiency, water consumption and waste management are one of the many ways to achieve this. 

For shoppers, instituting educational programmes aimed at educating, inspiring and appealing to shoppers to change and join the movement to adopting climate positive practices in their everyday lives is a good start. 

 

Safeguarding shoppers

 

Creating safe spaces, as the third opportunity, should not be compromised and should underpin all experiences within retail environments, this shows duty of care to stakeholders. Retail environments should exemplify the highest standards of hygiene and safety achieved through; strategically placed sanitisation stations, continuous fogging, physical distancing measures, touchless parking, kerb-side pick-ups, and decals to support COVID-19 safety measures across various high-volume areas among other things. Safeguarding shoppers, tenants and mall employees through stringent security measures is critical and many measures will more than likely be adopted for the long-term.

 

Convenience and flexibility needed 

 

Customers will also start looking for brands that align to their personal priorities including visible safety and hygiene measures and experiential offerings that consider and minimise the impact on the natural environment. This will be crucial for business success as well as setting retailers apart. This, coupled with providing customers with the much-needed convenience as well as flexibility to meet ever-changing lifestyles will be the true differentiator.

 

The pandemic took its toll on the industry, however, it unlocked opportunities for the retail sector to be innovative while placing the consumer top of mind. Moving forward the retail sector must transform and adapt the narrative. 

 

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