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Retail Barometer 2019: Everything changes, and so should we

We measured the expectations of Belgian consumers towards retailers. We found that the lack of innovation combined with a rather traditional offer of products and services is a recipe for stagnation and declining market share. However, retailers who know how to anticipate consumer expectations and adapt accordingly, are here to stay!

Service makes the difference

Retailers are increasingly seen as ‘access providers’ to products (the same products at the same price) and, in this context, service makes the difference. An extra layer of customer care, seeing to the needs of its customers, gives a store a competitive advantage. This clearly distinguishes sellers who mainly focus on price and, on the other end of the spectrum, retailers who ‘premiumise’ their offer to meet shoppers’ expectations.

Faster or rather slower?

In the context of this polarisation, physical points of sales have to go the extra mile to seduce customers. Some of the shoppers want to save time with a quick and easy purchase, whereas others are looking for a qualitative experience that makes it worth for them to spend time in a store. This goes well beyond simply providing a ‘pleasant experience’: customers are looking for sales advice, protection, interaction with other customers or social responsibility.

It’s not enough anymore to simply have a DJ or some cheerleaders in a POS to generate a so-called shopping experience.

Cross-channel and omni-channel

Fluidity is essential. Customers want to choose how they acquire products and connect with a brand. It takes more than simply approaching the prospects where they are. It’s also crucial to create the right context. Customers want to approach the brand in their own way. This makes fluidity one of the biggest challenges. We discovered that companies should practice what they preach internally before they can offer it to its customers. Are you ready for it?

The advantage to be Belgian in Belgium

Belgian shoppers are proud of the relationship they developed over time with national brands. That doesn’t make them ‘cautious’ or ‘conservative’, as is often suggested. The Belgian customer mostly holds on to existing brands because of a lack of choice, but they also see how international disruptive competitors (read Amazon) enter the market. If Belgian distribution keeps on lagging behind, they will lose the patronage of Belgian consumers to new players on the market.

Game over? Not yet

Nobody is safe in times of change. Some retailers are more prepared to embrace the pace of transformation, whereas others start suffering the consequences of their difficulties to cope with a changing environment. In a perpetually evolving world, it is paramount to keep questioning retail models to be ready to surpass any obstacles.

So what is the way forward? Understanding the consumer is the least we can do, but we also need to put the available data at the service of empathy and mutually beneficial relationships. Because everything changes, except change… It will take a lot of humbleness and people skills to prepare the future. But success is not a privilege of the strongest. For retailers to thrive, they will need to anticipate and adapt to consumer expectations.