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Cashless payment, coupons and content: the trends (and challenges) retail brands need to be thinking about

In the first of a series of articles as part of The Drum's retail review, we speak to a number of agencies operating in the space to ascertain the most important trends going forward.

In a year of continuing difficulty for retail brands, retailers need to understand where to channel their energy and investment in terms of engaging consumers. We asked five retail marketing experts to provide insight into what they believe are the key trends retailers should have at the forefront of their strategy going forward.Phil Marshall, director, Shoot the MoonTo steal a phrase from government; “We are in this together” continues to be a key theme for retail brands. Open empathy for personal circumstance and a proposition that eases the burden, opens opportunity, dilutes guilt or allows the consumer to contribute are becoming widespread and are playing an increasingly important part in the overall purchase process.Sue Benson, managing director, The Market CreativeThe line between sales channels is blurring and multichannel has become a buzzword in recent years. Subsequently, high street retailers can no longer charge a premium as people can touch products, speak to staff - get the benefits of an in-store experience - yet buy from a competitor online. Retailers should create synergy with competitive pricing or price matching and take advantage of technology and media rich POS.Consumers are continually seeking more variety in what, when and how they buy, and expect a superior shopping experience to match. Experiential retail has fed this desire and there are many technological advances that are breaking boundaries and providing opportunities for unprecedented engagement. Mobile shopping is growing and now accounts for a major chunk of online sales - the IMRG Capgemini Index showed that mobile commerce accounted for 11.6% of UK online sales in Q2 this year. This is a wake-up call to retailers without a mobile strategy and I suspect it will become more mainstream as we move through 2013. Although it’s still early days, augmented reality, is also becoming a serious consideration for retailers, particularly those in fashion where shoppers want to see if something suits them before buying. We’ve also seen more in the way of virtual shopping with John Lewis and Tesco both making major announcements in the last year. The rise of the social shopper has also created opportunities as well as challenges for retail as consumers look to share their views and seek third party endorsement before they buy.Adrian Watts, chairman, Live & BreatheCashless payment. This is the big trend that’s been emerging for a few years but it is now gathering pace with NFC trials taking place and retailers need to be sure they don’t fall behind the pack but lead from the front on this.Coupons. We all know these days everybody is looking for a deal. But coupons are becoming more than just a means to save money. Deals can also be about entertainment and fun. A good example of this is Uniqlo which launched its Regent Street store with the Uniqlo Happy Machine which offered selected goods at really low prices at random times during the day.But any trend that’s already in the public domain is a band wagon that’s already rolling. It’s more interesting to speculate about what trends haven’t yet appeared or been capitalised on. For example:Why can’t online be more like offline? Take those boringly ubiquitous category drop downs at the top of the web page. Why can’t we have the option to browse the store virtually like we would in the real world. If Luisa Via Roma can do it why can’t others?What’s going to become of the high street? We heard this week that the latest thinking is that empty shops should be converted to flats and business bases for SMEs. This clearly highlights the degree of narrow thinking in retail and does nothing to encourage the next generation of retail entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and flair. Retailers need to think outside the box and find ways to integrate their different shopping needs. Can’t a coffee bar sell musical instruments or a nail boutique sell real nails (as in ironmongery) – lots of women do DIY, why not cater for them in an environment they’re visiting anyway?The population is ageing and at the same time remaining mobile and fitter for longer, but who in retail but who in retail is acknowledging that octogenarians in years to come will think very differently from those of today? Not only will they have different product, service and communication needs to someone half their age, but by all accounts they’ll have more money to spend than someone half their age too.Ben Hatton, managing director, RippleffectIn broad terms, retailers need to use brighter, fresher content to engage with consumers, particularly in social media. Social giving is just one example: Wrapp is one of the first firms into this sector, and hotly tipped to become market leader. At present, the challenge for Wrapp and its competitors is to build relationships with appropriate brands. Wrapp has signed deals with brands of the standing of Karen Millen, Pizza Express and Asos, while DropGifts has relationships with Urban Outfitters, John Lewis and SpaFinder. That makes for a great start, but this sector will need to move beyond the current reliance on promotional offers and discounts to become a fully fledged retail channel. Which leads on to the other challenging aspect for retailers: transforming their multichannel approach into a truly engaging cross-channel offer. Tesco is ahead of the curve here: not only does it tailor voucher offers to individual consumers according to the information they gather via online and in-store retail, it is now further reinforcing that offer by trebling the number of loyalty points awarded to customers using its mobile data plan. Engagement is a key issue: smarter thinking will provide the solutions. Steve Sowden, managing partner, IntermarketingDiscounting and offer led retail has had to play a major role in the lives of many retailers over the last couple of years, certainly through necessity not choice. Customers don’t just demand it now, they expect it and moving back to a world of full price is going to be difficult for some. This creates another problem: discounting. A discount can only lead to reduced margins and a poorer customer experience for all.

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