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Wayne Hemingway: Why 2016 is a pivotal year for the future of retail

26th Jan 2016

Whether personal or professional, positive relationships are at the heart of happiness and success. But, what happens when something disrupts the balance and flow of a relationship and throws its composite parts into flux?

Over the past two decades, the manufacturing and retail sectors have been trying to answer this question as digital interaction has become part of just about everyone’s life.

Social media and user-generated content platforms have revolutionised the relationship between retailer and customer. When our first stall opened on Camden Market at the turn of the 1980s, shoppers only had who was with them to get  a second opinion on their potential purchase.  Today, you can snap a picture in the changing room and get instant feedback from potentially hundreds of “friends”. The online social community has developed into a valuable consumer tool that is so much more than sharing photo memories.

Getting it wrong can soon turn into an unwelcome tsunami of criticism.

Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and the like have given businesses of all sizes global reach. Overseas markets and manufacturing are crying out to be harnessed to your advantage.

Modern communications have also revitalised customer satisfaction - dealing with a disgruntled customer over social media can win you widespread acclaim if handled correctly and with a hint of humour.

Getting it wrong can soon turn into an unwelcome tsunami of criticism. We have an online blog at HemingwayDesign, aimed at developing a better-rounded relationship between company and customer. Intentionally, the blog incorporates topics outside of our strict business focus, so that an authentic dialogue can thrive between us and the customer. Our Facebook and Twitter posts are mostly about information and subject matters that will interest our community rather that shoving our products, services and events down their throats.

Every time retailers are mentioned or talked about online, they are being invited further into their customers’ lives. This is one reason why customers are more aware then ever of their commercial connections: “If I’m going to associate with your brand then you need to understand my values.” The ability to access vast amounts of information has not only made  a brands response rate a prerequisite for commercial success, but has transformed the modern consumer into the most informed and empowered shopper to ever exist.

The importance of ethics and personalisation

Twenty years ago, ethics in manufacturing was something to which only a few pioneers were committed. Now it’s discussed in business meetings, displayed at shop tills and, most importantly, posted in newsfeeds and constantly discussed by consumers who have been gifted a loud voice by the internet. The most informed want sustainably sourced goods ethically fabricated in decent conditions. HemingwayDesign’s commitment to refurbishing the old and sourcing the new in a sustainable manner is a product of our own deeply held beliefs and our recognition that customers are switched-on, engaged, global citizens.

The modern age of retail is also epitomised by the blurred lines between the physical and electronic. Take Sephora’s concept store in Paris as an example, where a limited number of lines are on offer, but touch screens invite customers to order any of the products from the Sephora website. Or, Amazon opening a physical bookshop in Seattle in November last year.

The modern age of retail is also epitomised by the blurred lines between the physical and electronic.

This new way of indulging in retail therapy means an incredibly tailored shopping experience. When we opened our first Red or Dead store, staff would struggle to remember the likes and dislikes of every regular. Today’s vendors, fuelled by masses of data, have an exact record of past purchases that enables the suggestion of products.

The merging of bricks and mortar with ecommerce, the rise of the informed consumer and the potential of social media for business growth makes 2016 a pivotal year in the future of retail. These are areas I am passionate about and topics that will be discussed at the International Festival for Business 2016 (IFB2016) in Liverpool in June and July, for which I am an ambassador. It’s a tried and tested approach and in 2014 £280m worth of deals were done at the festival.

Technology has irrevocably altered our relationship with business. More than ever before customers are closer to their favourite brands and can attack those they don’t like. This is all backed up by sophisticated technology. Many businesses are increasingly showing a marked enthusiasm to meet the high social and environmental standards that customers now expect, and I wouldn’t like to be part of a business that is not on this path.

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