The first few months of 2017 have certainly proved testing for a significant number of retailers.

The Centre of Retail Research recently revealed that by the end of the March, 12 retailers had entered into administration, including well-known, high street brand Jaeger. And as figures from Visa show that spending on the high street fell by 1.3% in March, experts and analysts are now predicting that the number of retail failures will sadly increase throughout the rest of the year.

Of course, there are a number of factors impacting this rather gloomy outlook of the retail industry – from rising business rates, the fall in the value of sterling and rises in the national living wage. But having reflected on what went wrong for Jaeger, experts are generally in agreement that its failure to capitalise on the growth of online shopping was a significant factor in its ultimate fate.

Much like BHS before it, Jaeger was left behind as other fashion retailers jumped on the digital bandwagon and adapted their services to meet changing consumer buying habits.

On-the-go demands

Mobile has completely redefined how we shop – it’s a much quicker, easier and more convenient way to get the goods we want. In fact, over half of online sales are now made through mobile devices and, as such, many brands are having to quickly respond to this shift in consumer behaviour. Just last month, for example, Debenhams’ boss Sergio Bucher announced that all the growth in retail sales had come from consumer shopping via mobile and, consequently, the company now plans to make it easier for customers to buy through their phones as well as receive personalised promotions through this medium.

Debenhams isn’t alone. Many retailers now regard mobile as the glue between their traditional bricks and mortar stores and the online world. More and more customers are using the two channels to gain the best customer experience possible; stock checking via their mobiles or finding out whether they could get a better deal with a brand online. This shift to mobile is having a profound impact on customer loyalty and satisfaction too. Consumers now demand instantaneous gratification from any interaction with a retailer and the very nature of the ‘always on’ society means that consumers expect to be able to engage with retailers 24/7.

But being able to communicate with your customers when they need you isn’t enough, and retailers need to be prepared to communicate with them on their terms. From apps and social media to SMS, MMS and email the mobile communications landscape is a complicated one, and because consumers want highly personalised communications with a brand. That means talking via the channel that best suits their circumstances and preferences. It also means communicating with them across channels seamlessly, with conversations on one platform contextualising those on another.

Knowledge is power

Enabling contextually relevant cross-channel conversations between retailers and their diverse customer base relies on data. Leveraging data on how customers like to engage with a certain brand will be instrumental in enabling retailers to develop a method of communication that individual consumers will react well to, because a one-size-fits-all approach to customer engagement no longer pays dividends.

Gaining this data can be as simple as using your in-store WiFi as a data capture tool. By offering free WiFi, retailers are able to gather hugely valuable data to help build a deeper understanding of the customers visiting their stores, and indeed when they are repeat customers. What’s more, for one time visitors, retailers can incentivise their return by delivering personalised discounts – via email or SMS – that references their previous interactions or transactions with a particular brand.

Another alternative for store owners is to make better use of the systems and devices they already own, such as the POS (point of sale) system. When a customer makes a purchase in-store, retailers can capture data to know, again, who is visiting the store and can then push personalised messages and offers to them. Some retailers are doing this by offering to send an e-receipt via email, and there is an opportunity to send offers with that receipt. Such communications have a far higher open rate than unsolicited broadcast messages, and given that they are based on a pre-existing relationship, likely to be better received.

By bringing various data sources together, retailers can begin to engage with customers in more meaningful ways, pushing offers to customers based on any previous interactions and transactions they’ve had with the brand, tailored to their location and purchasing preferences. The result? The customer feels like an individual and that goes a long way in boosting customer loyalty at a time when the retail industry is struggling.

A prosperous future

As consumers’ demand for highly personalised experiences increases, retailers hold the responsibility to get this right and deliver an unparalleled customer experience, demonstrating what makes them worthy of a customer’s loyalty.

Getting the right messages to the right people at the right time puts a certain retailer at ‘front of mind’ with customers at the times they are most likely to want to buy from you. This ultimately drives revenue and, as a result, your business can avoid falling into the same unfortunate trap experienced by Jaeger.