Will UK Retailers Have a Merry Christmas?

The Christmas season is a critical time for retail. As consumers work through their Christmas shopping and countdown to the 25th of December, retailers online and on the high street are vying for their attention, their loyalty, and share of their wallet. This year, there are also additional pressures. Brexit looms large and will have some impact on consumer confidence and spending habits, writes Jill Ross, managing director, Accenture UK Retail, exclusively for RetailTechNews.

But the outlook still looks to be a positive one, especially for those who harness the power of technology effectively. Accenture’s annual holiday shopping survey found that over a third of people in the UK plan to spend more on Christmas shopping than they did last year, and that the single biggest boost to spending is the online shopping experience. Others say they want to experiment more with new technologies like Artificial Intelligence.

Customer expectations have clearly shifted. Shoppers want the convenience that technology offers and are increasingly open to innovative ways of buying, trialling and receiving products. To succeed in this increasingly digital world, retailers must adapt to stay ahead of the competition. So, how can retailers use technology to boost sales and succeed in this market?

Embrace emerging technology 

It will come as no surprise to retailers that e-commerce is huge and growing – in fact, some 81% of consumers plan to do their Christmas shopping online. But consumers today want more than the ability to make purchases online. They want retailers to streamline search capabilities and curate their experience to help customers find what they are looking for, and help them find things they don’t yet know they’re looking for through recommendations and inspiration.

Consumers are also more familiar than ever with newer and emerging technologies that will improve their shopping experience – from mobile payments to virtual mannequins that let you see what clothes look like before you buy. AI-powered technology is an increasingly familiar feature of everyday life and is making online shopping easier. In fact, consumers are now increasingly likely to purchase ‘commodity’ items, such as household goods and groceries, through devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

Technology could also have implications for supply chain and distribution. More than a quarter of consumers would actively choose drone delivery over other delivery options if it was offered, both for ease and because they see drones as cool and exciting. Retailers need to get ahead of these trends and work out which technologies could deliver value for their customers and their business. 

Build consumer trust 

Savvy retailers will balance technological innovation with human understanding and sensibility. While technology can help drive sales, true differentiation will come from a clearly defined brand purpose that builds trust with a customer. Retailers that understand when their customer wants to interact with AI, and when they are looking for the human touch, will be the ones to win the sale.

For example, almost half of consumers now say they are familiar with chatbots, but retailers must be clear about the role a chatbot can play versus the role a human can play. Digital purchases are key, but many customers still want to be able to browse and talk to someone in-store.

Building trust also requires transparency about how technology and data is being used, especially as privacy and security remain a concern for many consumers. Our research shows at least half of consumers worry about the safety of their data when making online purchases.

As retailers prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018, they need to completely review their approach to customer privacy and rethink the value exchange. The attitude of "if I give you consent, this is what I will get in return" will start to influence how consumers share their data and how they choose the brands they share with. To build trust, retailers need to be transparent about the use of customer data, using it in a way that clearly provides a better experience or more value.

There are huge gains to be made from the responsible and considered use of technology; and retailers must think about how they adapt, while addressing their sales and costs challenges. Ultimately, it will be those retailers that have a clearly defined purpose, build trust, and place customers at the centre of every experience, reengineer business practices, and blend digital and human retail models that will be best positioned to drive healthy sales this Christmas, but also form profitable, enduring customer relationships that last all year.This content was originally published in RetailTechNews.