CX Files: With Closing Stores And Shoppers Going Online, How Can CX Save Retail?

The latest CX Files podcast featured a deep dive into retail. Shops have suffered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, but there was trouble in the High Street before this latest crisis. Brands with a large estate of physical stores have been fighting lower-cost e-commerce retailers and famous brands have been disappearing at an unprecedented rate.

I called William Carson, the director of market engagement at Ascensos for his ideas on the subject. William works with many different retail brands in his Ascensos role and he sits on the council of the Global Sourcing Association. Just this week William had participated in at least three webinars focused on where retail is heading post-pandemic so it was a great time to capture his ideas on the podcast.

I asked William first if there is still a place on the High Street for clothing stores when we are seeing young dynamic fashion brands buying out 200-year-old companies as they fail. He said: “Yes, definitely. I think I only have to reflect on my last trip to Oxford Circus in December when the lockdown was lifted slightly, Top Shop was absolutely buzzing. But what I recognise,  and what you see really working better, is those retailers that really thrive will be the ones that make that digital link between online and offline.”

I asked William if this means that the department stores – as we know them – are dead. He said: “The problem was, the [department store] model became the same across every High Street across every town and city, and even across every nation around the world – through the 20th century this became accepted as the only model.” He added: “I think there’s still opportunities for department stores, but they’ll never be called department stores. I think it’s just synonymous with failures, synonymous with the steam engine. Albeit those things were fantastic in their time and pushed boundaries, but not today. I think there’s a place for stores and a place for big stores. But they’ll have to be part of a greater experiential aspect to attract and retain customers.”

We talked about the problems many physical stores are having with their efforts to create more experiential shopping. Many malls in the US are finding that their investments in roller coasters and other attractions has sunk them deeper into debt because the attractions cannot open during the pandemic – even if many of the stores can open.

William suggested that many brands need to explore new ideas, to change their mindset and even the channels they use to interact with customers. He said: “The beauty brand Coty has had huge success with their beauty products using live streaming. That’s a new reality and I think that there’s going to be a range of these new ways of thinking about the experience the customer is having, while they still have their wallet in their pocket.”

This is a great point because although many fashion and beauty brands have seen success from their social media efforts on networks such as TikTok and Instagram, it is surprising to many that live streaming events are so popular. It feels like the opposite of what we are seeing with TV, where everyone wants to stream content at a time they choose – not dictated by a broadcaster’s schedule. With products, the live events create a strong bond between the brand and customers – they feel part of a small group of fans that are first to see the new products.

I asked William about where these innovations and ideas can be found and he said that the inspiration is already inside your own organisation: “It’s about customer data. You have to listen to your customers, you have to recognise that most of the big strategic questions that your CEO asks already have answers in your customer data.” He added: “Pret a Manger launched their £20 a month unlimited coffee subscription model entirely because they listened to their customers. You have to become a customer anthropologist – what are they doing and when do they convey intent – and how do we then act on it?”

This is only a summary of the latest CX Files podcast – to listen to the complete interview with William Carson, search your favourite podcast app for ‘CX Files’ or click here to listen online.

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