Not a week seems to go by at the moment without more bad news about the state of the UK high street. This year alone we’ve seen such famous retail names as House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and Carphone Warehouse all announce a raft of store closures as they struggle with tough trading conditions. Much has been written about what this means for the retail sector in the long-term, but what about the product brands that depend on stores to sell their goods?
Product brands have always faced the challenge of how to stand out in physical retail environments over which they have no control. After all, you can have the best point-of-sale kit in the world, but if the retailer fails to put it up or maintain it correctly – or simply shunts your product to a dark and dingy corner at the back of the store – you risk getting lost in a sea of other products.
At a time when the traditional high street is shrinking, and consumers’ first instinct is to shop online for cheaper deals, product brands urgently need to find new ways of standing out in today’s retail environment.
This is a challenge that greatly concerns us at BJL, where we work with product brands across a diverse range of categories – from sealant brand Ronseal, which has the difficult task of standing out in the complex, ‘stack-it-high’ DIY store; to salad brand Florette, which must make its mark in the samey ‘sea of green’ that is the supermarket produce aisle.
We know first and foremost that in order to stand out in a retail space, product brands need to have a clear sense of their own identity. Whether it’s a tin of paint, a clothing label or an electrical gadget, people need to know about your brand story before they even set foot in a store.
The battle for attention on the high street has become so fierce that a brand needs to build a connection with consumers and drive preference long before the customer arrives at the fixture. That means that a brand’s marketing must work harder across every channel and customer touchpoint.
It’s no longer enough to hope a shopper will spot your product by chance sitting on a shelf or hanging from a rail – they should enter a store with the intention of finding it, and potentially buying it.
Within the store itself, how a brand presents itself must also reflect the new retail conditions. The ‘showrooming’ practice, for example, where people go into stores to look at products before buying them cheaper online, demands a response from both the retailers and product brands that are losing out. This could involve creating more compelling forms of ‘retail theatre’, where consumers are encouraged to engage and interact with a particular product experience.
Beauty brands have already been doing this for years, setting up booths within department stores where customers are encouraged to test and try a carefully curated selection of products. The immersive nature of the experience incentivises people to buy items there and then in-store. Other types of retailers and product brands should now be thinking about how they can develop their own ‘showroom’ experiences to drive their own sales.
Some of the most savvy retailers are already catching onto this trend. Look at Zara, for example, which has introduced a range of technology into its stores including AR experiences and trials of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in its fitting rooms to provide customers with recommended or co-ordinating items when they scan a product. Disney, meanwhile, is famous for creating retail experiences where children are able to touch and play with toys on the shop floor, as though they were playing in their own homes.
The continuing popularity of these retail experiences should provide hope for those who fear the death of physical retail – but they should also inspire brands to think of new ways of engaging customers in a store environment. To do this a product brand must have a clear sense of who it is, and it must invest to ensure that every customer touchpoint continues to add value.
The danger otherwise is that product brands – like many of the retailers they depend on – will be dragged into a race to the bottom where discounting and downsizing are the norm.
By Jonathan Bacon
Agency Content Writer