Pushing hard and breaking things

Accent nike shoesThere is no doubt the retail industry is undergoing a period of extreme change. As many physical retailers downsize in a struggle to remain relevant, the rise of shopping on social media has had a significant impact on online spending habits. The latest UniBank Spending Report revealed that 43 per cent of students polled agreed that seamless, in-platform shopping on social media platforms is a major trigger in how much they spend online.

The ability to easily check inventory and offer appealing delivery options, such as same-day delivery, are becoming more and more important as consumer expectations change.

While the coming of Amazon did not eventuate the death of Australia’s retail markets, as some suggested, the competition it stirred up has been fantastic for consumers, with retail giants adopting a more customer-focused, online-friendly approach long seen overseas.

As more retailers and brands adopt these features, how does a brand stand out from the competition?

The answer, according to Accent Group chief digital officer Mark Teperson, is in the data.

“I think digital platforms and social media platforms have become the next competitive frontier to customers. We talk about [winning] the hearts and minds of consumers, and if you think about it in a very crude context, brands that have the most engaging content are going to win over consumers.

“So if that’s the landscape we’re playing in, then data is now the digital currency. Getting engagement with consumers, the collections of data and the utilization of data is such an important part of the retail landscape today,” Teperson tells IRW.

A leg up on the competition

Accent Group is a regional leader in the sale of performance and lifestyle footwear, with over 420 stores across 10 different retail banners across Australia and New Zealand, including The Athlete’s Foot, Hype DC, Vans, Dr. Martens, Timberland, and more.

In order leverage the strengths of its brands and learn about the shift in consumer trends, and how to take advantage of it, Accent Group created its acclaimed Digital Hub – a place to bring together digital talent from across the business in one space in order to collaborate and drive change much faster.

“The buzz word around the market at the moment is digital transformation, and I think it’s one of those concepts that’s easier said than done,” Teperson says.

“What the digital hub has enabled us to do is to create a huge amount of energy, focus and momentum that we have been able to work with the wider business and make some pretty substantial changes to the group to transform us to be more relevant for consumers.

“It allows us to share learning, to grow faster and to use our different brands as a test bed. We have a wonderful platform to be able to test, learn, deploy and manage our digital investments because we’re seeing everything under one roof, and that’s a real competitive advantage in the market.”

Learning what the customer expects has, unsurprisingly, given Accent Group a leg up on the competition. The business achieved digital comparable sales of 170 per cent for the six months leading up to December 2017, which Teperson notes hasn’t changed much in the last six months.

“It wasn’t a small business to begin with, so it feels like there’s a groundswell around what we’re doing,” he says.

“I think importantly… it’s not just about driving more online sales. We’ve actually looked at how we connect our physical assets, our stores, and our experience centres with our digital experience online. The synergies we are getting out of that in terms of what we’ve done with click-and-collect, and ship-from-store, has been amazing.

“Clearly the market continues to shift … but I think the overall trend that we see is that consumers are looking for great experiences. If you look at the retailers that are really succeeding in the market, they are the ones that are investing in their stores, service and products and are creating great experiences for consumers.”

350 ship-from-store locations

By pulling together customer data as well as their knowledge of digital and physical retail experiences, the team at Accent Group have been able to enhance their in-store and online experiences through new initiatives.

Endless aisle is an upcoming feature of Accent Groups brands that will enable staff in any store to access any piece of inventory and have it delivered to the customer free of charge the next day.

It’s an effective way to combat smaller inventory sizes and, even if the store doesn’t have what they need, create a positive experience for the customer.

“Our stores are the most important physical manifestations of our brand. That’s where we create these experiences and customers have real sensory experiences, but we’ve rethought our store network and have actually started thinking of them as distribution centres as well,” Teperson says.

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Over the past six months, Accent Group has transformed 350 stores to be ship-from-store locations and is now launching same-day delivery with three-hour delivery to follow soon afterward.

“Unlike our competition who only offer three-hour delivery in the capital city where they have a distribution centre, because we can use all of our stores as distribution centres, we reckon we can get to 70 to 80 per cent of the population with a same day delivery offer right across the country,” Teperson says.

“You don’t achieve 170 per cent comps by doing the status quo. You’re pushing hard and you are breaking things, but you’re fixing them and moving forward. That’s one of the wonderful things about the space. Digital gives you a platform where you can test things in relatively controlled ways and get a read on how they’re going to perform, and then you’ve got an opportunity to leverage them at speed throughout the business.”

Despite the difficulties facing the physical retail market, Teperson is positive about the future for the retailers and brands that are willing to put money and time into their businesses and innovate.

“I think the ability for retailers to create great in-store experiences, the theatre you can create in a store, will still be the reason why we captivate attention and interest in physical retail,” he says.

“If we fail to deliver on that we are only going to push more and more customers into the digital path because it’s easier. It might not be the same experience, but at least you know with certainty when you go onto the site you can see whether it’s available or not.”

Omnichannel retailers will have a huge advantage over online-only stores in the future, according to Teperson, but he believes most retailers have only made token investments in this space.

“It doesn’t matter what channel, or how old the consumer is, as long as we’re meeting the unmet needs of those customers, we can deliver products in the channels that they want to shop with us in, and we can create great experiences we will continue to be relevant into the future,” he says.

 

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