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Consumer experiences remain pivotal for post-pandemic retail

Consumer experiences remain pivotal for post-pandemic retail

With the future of retail touted as an omnichannel experience, Gulf retailers in the post-pandemic world must strive to engage customers on all levels

With millions of people across the region affected by Covid-19 and consequent lockdowns, many organisations are still uncertain as to what the future will look like, and there are still many questions to be answered. Nevertheless, we are now moving into a “new normal” as economic relief measures and strong government policies are implemented regarding public health.

The Gulf’s retail sector is undoubtedly one of the largest and most strategic industries being considered in this movement to a new normal. There was a near overnight shift of consumer behaviour from malls to e-commerce when this all began.

Yet that trend has started to shift back as shopping centers have begun reopening over the last month. Brick-and-mortar retail has long been a pillar of national economies throughout the region across nearly all segments—from luxury to sporting goods—accounting for the vast majority of all retail transactions.

During this shift back to in-store shopping, some retailers may feel inundated with the myriad requirements of restarting brick-and-mortar operations after a prolonged period of downtime. This means new staff trainings, inventory allocations, promotional schedules, and many more decisions. While these considerations are necessary for a successful retail market, it’s easy to get lost in the daily decisions.

Now is actually the ideal time for retailers to get back to the basics, and at the very foundation of the Gulf’s retail industry is the creation of engaging consumer experiences.

The consumer experience is widely recognised as the most important influence on an individual’s purchasing behaviour, even more than product quality or price. Many of us in the industry have valued consumer experiences as the driving factor in elevating the Gulf’s retail offering on the international stage over recent decades.

While plans this year have not panned out as expected, the consumer experience can—and must—remain at the fore of our industry.

Customers visiting brick-and-mortar outlets will, for example, have concerns for their health until Covid-19 is well and truly behind us. Staff should therefore be trained to not only uphold the highest standards of hygiene in-store, but to make customers feel especially welcome during this time. That may also involve the reorganising of inventory to allow for greater physical distancing when shopping.

It could involve new types of contactless payment options being provided to customers. While there are mandatory sanitisation requirements for all shops, retailers that go above and beyond those standards will help reassure customers and build a positive rapport.

In looking at the consumer experience, Gulf retailers would also do well to remember that the future of retail remains a true omnichannel ecosystem. That model recognises that people look to online and offline retail channels at different times for different purposes, and that they should thus be complementary rather than competing.

As more shops and malls reopen, retailers must consider what added-value people will find in-store versus shopping online, and how the relationships they’ve built through e-commerce recently can be maintained as individuals go back to physical retail outlets.

This is not the 2020 that anyone expected.

However, the Gulf’s retail sector has been dealt the opportunity to revisit its fundamental beliefs and to chart a new course for success – one with engaging consumer experiences at its centre.

Mohammad A. Baker is the deputy chairman and CEO of Gulf Marketing Group

 

 

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