By Russell Zimmerman is Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association (www.retail.org.au).
The 2014 December quarter ABS Consumer Price Index showed inflation of 0.2 per cent, which followed a rise of 0.5 per cent in the September quarter last year. This confirms what we already know about pre-Christmas spend for 2014 – although consumers were fairly slow off the mark in getting into the swing of Christmas shopping, lowered costs definitely meant Aussies weren’t holding back on splurging on their loved ones.
With the chaos of Christmas behind us, many retailers are looking ahead to what challenges and opportunities lay before them. What an interesting year 2015 is shaping up to be – there are certainly some big and exciting changes about to impact the Australian retail landscape.
I’ve already seen many retailers across the country take advantage of reduced costs and consistent levels of consumer confidence. I’ve seen retailers exercise their skills in visual merchandising with new and innovative window displays, tactical store layouts and exciting in-store strategies to engage their customers – and this is just the beginning. This year we’re bound to see more and more new technologies hit retail stores, steering consumers toward valuable new experiences and staff towards becoming more efficient and customer centric.
Many retailers have already adapted to in-store devices that act as sales assistants to satisfy consumer needs, such as innovative touch screens in changing rooms and informative digital signage displays, and we can only expect such technologies to continue to evolve in 2015. Interactive store layouts are fantastic tools to foster customer engagement, and I’ve seen a fair few retailers who have created new sections within their stores for customers to touch and connect with products – much like test-driving before buying an expensive car.
It’s interesting to see how technical devices inside retail stores are drawing in consumers and becoming valuable ‘sales assistants’ in their own right. Technology is now an integral part of the retail story that assists in turning every page of the book, and this is certainly an exciting space for consumers and retailers alike to be part of.
Social media is another piece of the digital puzzle that will continue to heavily influence product decisions. Many retailers are already connecting with their customers through social media, but in 2015 we’re going to see a clear step further with businesses using feedback from their social media channels to make high-level strategic marketing decisions. Social networking will continue to evolve into profitable business models that give consumers more control over what retailers sell.
Social media channels really are a retailer’s best friend and I encourage all businesses to make the most of these free mediums to spread their message. Social media is not just a time and cost-effective tool for promoting a brand anymore; it’s a means of storytelling and interacting with target customers. So, if your retail business is not active and prominent on social media, then you’re already one step behind the competition.
With the rise of multichannel retailing, consumers can easily monitor their favourite brands whether in-store or online. According to survey results conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers early last year, 59 per cent of surveyed participants said that they follow their favourite brands and retailers via social media. Almost 48 per cent of the respondents said that they even purchase products through social media, and in 2015 we can expect to see this trend continue to increase.
The future of retail lies in the hands of consumers, which is why the emerging trends of 2015 are all about keeping the interests of shoppers, satisfying their ever-changing needs and keeping one step ahead of the competition. I would advise retailers to continue to update their in-store sales strategies this year – don’t be afraid of trial and error.