Local is in fashion: tailoring the consumer experience

11th July 2019
Alka Gandhi
Associate Partner

Consumers are increasingly looking for more personal, community-orientated shopping experiences, with a recent IRI survey highlighting that over 50 per cent of UK customers prefer to shop local. While 10 years ago this meant visiting the 7-11 corner shop, a high street butcher or your local fashion store, the revolution of retail and technology has given ‘local’ a whole new meaning and depth. Today’s more demanding and savvy breed of shopper expects retailers to go the extra mile on consumer experience, tailoring offers to meet local needs. With regional co-operatives and savvy independents being early adopters, larger retailers are exploring the opportunities presented by taking a local approach. Key to success will be exploiting data and applying smart leadership.

The devil’s in the data

In the past, retailers were firmly at the heart of their communities and could rely on strong relationships and one-to-one feedback from customers. Yet, in today’s market, organisations of all shapes and sizes have the ability, through multiple channels, to gather and absorb vast amounts of customer insight. This data has become the ‘holy grail’ for retailers to help them deliver a tailored experience.

By understanding the DNA of communities, retailers can move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to become more connected and responsive to different needs. Just look to Morrisons, which has introduced a weekly ‘quieter hour’ designed to help and support customers who struggle with music and the other noise associated with supermarket shopping. Marks & Spencer has also unveiled plans to devolve more power to local store managers to ‘bring back the voice of the stores’. Part of this will also see managers gain greater visibility of their local data, such as profit and loss and granular food waste, allowing them to make more store-specific decisions.

However, data is only the beginning. An effective local approach is not easy, and must be backed up by smart leadership.

Localisation through leadership

While local presents a real opportunity for retailers, making it happen is a challenge. Namely, this is because many businesses, including larger retailers, still operate using complex legacy systems and processes. Pair this with complicated supply chain and procurement practices, and it’s easy to see that delivering change is an uphill battle.

Success will be down to retailers having smart leadership at the helm. Those able to unite data, systems and people to create agile businesses that meet consumer needs, while recognising that local can come in all shapes and sizes, are in hot demand. Waterstones managing director, James Daunt, is a prime example. Through a simple but effective strategy to hand more control to local store managers, he led the turnaround of the high-street bookseller. These managers are now using local insight to manage stock, and in some cases deliver community events, driving footfall and local engagement with a mantra of having “the right kind of bookshop in whatever location it is.” Forward-thinking retailers should look to follow suit, recognising and responding to diverse customer-bases, where ethnicity, age, wealth, family structures and community needs all impact the retail experience.

More broadly, data has highlighted an increasing consumer preference for retailers with sustainability, ethics and social value at their core. Leaders need to look beyond commercial results and acknowledge this, by committing not only to sustainability and ethical targets, but also to delivering local and community impact. Regional co-ops across the UK are doing this well via sourcing local products, employing local people and supporting local charities. Similarly, IKEA’s new planning studios pair an innovative service – offering consumers one-to-one home improvement appointments with specialists – with dedicated spaces for the local community to host events, workshops, meetings and training.

Today’s consumer has a powerful voice and unprecedented choice and, in such a diverse and competitive retail landscape, meeting their needs has seen a shift back to local. Leaders that embrace data, and use it to become more responsive at a local level, will both earn and protect trust and loyalty from their consumers in the long-term.

For more information contact Alka Gandhi who is Head of  our Retail Practice. 

This article first appeared in ‘Retail Sector’