In 2017 the UK high street suffered nearly 6,000 store closures[1]. Following Toys R Us last year, House of Fraser and Poundland have recently become casualties of rising wages, a weaker pound, and rocketing business rates. Despite the apparent state of retail gloom, there is much to learn in the wake of today’s retail apocalypse. While innovative thinking and clever marketing strategies are integral, taking a customer-centric approach will be your key to survival.

Understanding today’s retail climate

Many store closures can be attributed to a sharp rise in e-commerce, meaning the online services offered by those retailers currently experiencing difficulties just aren’t working. Advancing technologies, new and inventive ways to launch products, together with changing consumer behaviour signal a shift towards an experience-led economy. The customer journey is the most important factor within this new climate and it is only the online retailers who seem to be getting it right.

ASOS are one such example. At no extra cost, customers can “Try Before You Buy”; order items, try them on, and then only pay for what they keep. The retail giant is engaging with more customers via Snapchat promoted stories, increasing reach and creating more immersive experiences. Content and visual merchandising is tailored to international markets, heavy investments are being made into AI and automation, and over 1,200[2] digital platform releases have been made within six months – largely centred around customer experience.

By understanding their market, ASOS are engineering their entire offering to specifically meet changing expectations – something all retailers must do to secure the future of their business.

>> Read related: What’s hot in Retail for 2018? 

New customer values

When it comes to online spending, consumers are more confident than ever. They have high expectations with both online and in-store shopping, as well as the environment within which they shop. As our modern world becomes more digitalised and time becomes more precious, convenience is of the utmost importance. Gone are the days where carrying lots of shopping bags from store to store, long queues and out-of-stock sizes were acceptable. Today’s customer expects everything on-demand, meaning your customer service needs to be efficient and available anywhere and at any time.

Harnessing the power of data

Today’s digital landscape combined with a growth in tech-savvy consumers presents a challenge when it comes to value creation. For department stores such as M&S and Debenhams, creating this value offering has proven difficult for their increasingly fragmented customer base – a task made even harder when managing multiple brands. To avoid the same pitfalls, customer information needs to be accurate, consistent, and readily available. With the explosion of Big Data and multiple customer data sources such as social, websites, and in-store systems, the ability to analyse data and turn into actionable insight on integrated systems it is essential.

Gaining a single version of the customer

Consumers want products unique to their exact requirements. Should this expectation not be met, they may shop elsewhere. The right technology can help retailers meet this demand, creating a unified view of the customer in order to personalise the offering. Combining both ERP and CRM functionality, Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides users access to data from one single, centralised source. The result: a consistently accurate 360-degree view of the customer. Microsoft’s unified, digital platform tracks data and analyses in real-time as it moves through your business. As well as providing valuable insights into each business unit, Dynamics predictive intelligence capabilities enables you to offer customers a more tailored experience across all channels.

While retailers have little or no control over changing trends such as evolving consumer habits and advancing technologies, they do have the power to respond and create new opportunities. Customer-centricity needs to be a core component in your approach. Leveraging technology[4] with the capability to help you achieve this will not only see you surviving the retail apocalypse, it’ll help you thrive into the future.