Online experience and core customers key for Irish retail success

Shoppers out in Belfast on the last day before latest retail lockdown restrictions kicked in. Picture: Hugh Russell
Chris Gilroy

AS Northern Ireland enters a new two-week coronavirus circuit breaker lockdown ahead of Christmas, the closure of most retail has followed.

The focus on core customers and online experience will be essential for Irish marketers, converting customers into brand advocates, with retailers ensuring that their online presence is a seamless and stress-free experience.

Amid economic uncertainty and lockdown restrictions, in this article, I urge retailers and Irish marketers across Northern Ireland and Ireland to adapt their marketing strategies to avoid a slump in crucial sales.

The challenge for marketers in an almost exclusively online Christmas shopping experience is cutting through the noise and raising your profile during an incredibly busy period. Despite the recession, people still love a bargain and will be looking to the businesses they know and trust.

Marketing teams across Northern Ireland and Ireland should be focusing on their core customers and reinforcing the value of their offering. Just because they will not be in store as much doesn't mean there should be a lack of focus on the experience.

It's therefore essential that you test your online presence and ensure it is functioning correctly – nothing will lose you a sale quicker than a poor online experience.

Despite the upheaval of 2020, the recent Black Friday event had remained a key date in the retail calendar, with past events suggesting reports of Black Friday fatigue among shoppers are wide of the mark.

Last year, Barclaycard revealed a sharp rise in Black Friday sales from 2018, reporting that transaction value and volume of transactions were up 16.5 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively.

However, according to a survey by OnePoll, while more than 60 per cent of shoppers are planning to buy Christmas presents by the end of November, of those, more than half said they plan to spend less on gifts this year.

Our experience of this year's Black Friday has almost certainly changed the nature of the events in the future.

While online retail still only represents around 35 per cent of total sales, this figure is set to grow.

The physical stores, once they reopen, will continue to evolve to present more of an experience, while a great deal of the transactions will take place online. This will require a lot more coordination in the run up to Christmas as customers clamour to experience products in an online world, a new experience for those who are used to venturing out onto the high streets during this time of year.

Once the circuit breaker lockdown ends in Northern Ireland, retailers will need to communicate with their customers any changes to their opening hours, what services they are offering e.g. Click and Collect/home delivery, plus continuous reassurance messages that their customers can shop safely in their store.

The management of queues will be important. With a competitive market, retailers may find that people have little patience for waiting unless there is a benefit or distraction to keep them entertained to ensure that the customer experience is a pleasant one.

:: Chris Gilroy is CIM Ireland chair

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