Shopping habits have undergone a drastic transformation over the last two decades, resulting in growing concerns among retailers that have a physical presence. As more consumers switch to shopping online, shop owners have struggled to generate enough sales to stay open, with brick-and-mortar stores gradually disappearing from towns and cities across the UK.
The closure of all non-essential shops under Covid-19 restrictions was another blow to the British high street. While retail footfall has increased with the easing of lockdown measures, figures are still 30% lower than pre-pandemic levels as customers continue to avoid crowded spaces. Retail parks are faring better as they offer larger stores, quieter locations, and customer parking, but high streets and shopping malls remain challenging locations for shop owners. Wherever you're based, getting customers to shop with you over rival stores can be difficult. And with fewer people visiting their local high street, the competition is fierce.
However, there are signs that support for local shops has grown throughout the pandemic, and it's hoped this will inspire shoppers to return as lockdown restrictions come to an end. To help the independent retail community during this time, we've put together eight tips to increase shop visits and boost your takings.
1. Create a welcoming shopfront
To persuade passing shoppers to step inside your store, it’s important that your brand makes a good first impression. This means creating a shopfront that is uncluttered, welcoming, and attractive. You may also want to spend some extra time on your visual merchandising. Given the restrictions on social gatherings over the last year, holidays and other celebrations will be highly important as lockdown ends. Creating seasonal window displays that mark these occasions, whether it’s Halloween, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas, featuring your most in-demand items can increase your footfall throughout the year.
2. Try product demos and deals
It’s also a great idea to take your business out into the streets and engage with potential customers. There are many ways to encourage shop visits through street marketing, such as product demonstrations, promotional flyers, free samples, and discount vouchers, which can be highly effective for boosting footfall. While online marketing has its advantages, creating face-to-face interactions with your target market can inspire an emotional connection and sense of consumer trust that’s tricky to recreate digitally.
3. Provide a loyalty scheme
To boost your brand and build repeat business, why not start a customer loyalty scheme? It's a great tool for bringing people back time and again. Whether you're a local supermarket or independent bookshop, giving your customers rewards in return for their repeat custom is a powerful customer engagement method. Not only does the customer feel valued, but they also have an incentive to visit regularly, which is crucial for any business.
4. Use local marketing
It’s vital to market your shop to the local community using tactics like direct mail, leaflets, and magazine ads. You could also buy a street sign to place in a high-footfall area, which displays clear directions to your shop and your special offers. There's also the option of sponsoring local events such as charity runs, community fairs, or business breakfasts. Providing you execute some market research beforehand, you could find the perfect opportunity to get your brand in front of the right people.
5. Be Covid-secure
Despite restrictions lifting, some customers are still reluctant to return to physical shops due to health concerns. To reassure the general public that it's safe to shop in-store, it’s important for all retailers to create a Covid-secure space that upholds social distancing and hygiene measures. There are many simple changes you can make, such as implementing a one-way system, installing checkout screens, and offering contactless payment options, that will increase consumer confidence and staff safety.
6. Leverage new technology
Creating a seamless omnichannel experience was a high priority for retailers even before the pandemic. This means that customers can engage with your brand through different channels, from your website to your brick-and-mortar store, without any inconvenience or disruption. For example, eCommerce technologies that let customers order online and pick up in-store, or check for product availability before visiting your shop, provide easy, flexible shopping options that drive traffic to your physical store.
During the pandemic, technology became increasingly important to manage and protect staff and customers. To ensure visitors can safely distance themselves while shopping, you may consider implementing a smart queuing system that allows customers to queue virtually and avoid overcrowding. This will prevent people from becoming bored or frustrated by long lines, and increase their willingness to wait.
7. Invest in CRM
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is crucial to understanding your target audience, delivering personalized marketing, and fulfilling consumer demand. By gathering data on your customers you can spot where you’re not servicing them and adjust your offering. This is vital to retaining your existing customers and building a reputation among new ones. Although retailers tend to use online surveys via their website or emails, it’s possible to collect this information in person with prompt cards at your checkout, or by training your staff to ask for feedback.
It’s still unknown if high street footfall will fully return to pre-pandemic levels, or how different regions will be affected. To ensure your retail business can survive the coming months, you need to visible, accessible, and appealing to as many shoppers as possible. While relocation can be costly, it may be the best choice for your business. If you’re currently situated in an area that lacks investment, struggles to attract tourists, has a high proportion of vacant lots, or charges expensive business rates, moving to new premises could dramatically boost your customer visits and your shop sales in the long-term.