Bringing the color back into retail

By Derek Buchanan, clientrelations@episys.com

It’s fair to say that the current state of retail is one of transition and flux. In the current climate, many retailers are going through a period of introspection; they’ve had to focus on cutting costs and risk by reassessing their stores, supply chain and sourcing. The focus is on efficiency and standardization, introducing processes that are easy to replicate, quickly.

The by-product of this situation is that it has almost become retailers’ entire focus. Therefore creativity, innovation and excitement have been sacrificed because of it. This means that from a customer’s point of view, while there’s a plethora of items to choose from, there is very little to differentiate between similar products on offer from different suppliers. As retailers have to be so conscious of efficiency and cost reduction, the ability to showcase and to put light and shade into presentation has been lost, and with that, it’s difficult for the customer to tell the difference between similar products.

In the most basic terms -- what makes one brand of tinned soup different to another? So how can retailers get creative and make sure their products and goods are impossible for consumers to miss? The answer is to combine great signage, great ticketing and showcasing the product in such a way that consumers can’t avoid seeing the product. This is the way to get straight through to customers -- they see, they note, they buy. But it’s done in such a way that it seduces the customer into wanting to buy the product. And that’s creativity.

Now the problem with some organisations is the cost impact in working this way. They need to free up time to be able to do this. They have to put other activities to one side, to say ‘we need to focus on this, because unless we can seduce the customer to spend their money, we’re not going to realise the sort of growth that we’re targeting.’ And the other issue is that customers are suffering from fatigue. They’ve bought everything they’re going to buy in volume purely because of price. They have enough shoes as far as need is concerned. They have enough food. Now it’s about want. And this is where retailers really need to get smart to showcasing and seduction! Companies need to bring color and passion into retail.

As it’s often said in retail, the last three metres are the most important. Research by Procter & Gamble has shown that in the last 20 years, more than 72% of purchase decisions are made at the last possible minute, when the customer is actually forced to make a decision, because if they don’t, they’ll have to walk out of the store empty handed and that’s the opportunity at the point of sale to actually change their decision. And what’s making this even worse today is that the lack of time is making consumers even more impulsive, so for the retailer the counter to that is that it gives the consumer even more opportunity. A lot of retailers however, are wasting that opportunity, by simply saying here it is, here’s the shelf facing, here’s the ticketing, that’s it. There’s no light and shade, there’s no ability to be able to see from the customer’s point of view, wow -- this item looks even more exciting that that one over there.

So with such a large task ahead of them, what can retailers do? They should embrace technology in the form of an integrated customer communication system that allows retailers to quickly create quality, accurate and consistent information for all their channels whether they are in-store paper shelf edge labels and promotional signs, digital signage, such as electronic labels, signs, kiosks and TV displays or external channels such as web site, catalogue, coupons and newspaper adverts. Moreover, the technology available is such that it will scale from the smallest to the largest retailers worldwide. Small and speciality stores can take advantage of a web-hosted version of the technology to gain an immediate impact to improve customer communication, without the need to invest in a costly information technology infrastructure. Larger retailers can install the technology in-house using current infrastructure, enabling them to communicate to their customers in hundreds or thousands of stores across different countries in the appropriate languages.

The technology behind customer communication systems is proven. Companies using it have reduced costs, improved operational efficiency, enhanced the customers’ shopping experience and in many cases gained sales uplift across all categories of retail including supermarkets, department stores, electricals, fashion, home improvement and speciality stores.

Derek Buchanan, is CEO of Episys, a global information technology solutions and services company to the retail, manufacturing, logistics, chemical, healthcare and public service sector industries. It provides expertise, products, services and support for signage, labeling and mobile systems. He can be reached at clientrelations@episys.com.