What a memorable year 2020 has been so far – and not for the right reasons.

However you celebrated the arrival of the new year on January 1, it is fair to say none of us expected the months of uncertainty and worry we have endured.

It has been tough on so many levels and nothing any of us have ever lived through before.

As we wait with bated breath for the virus to skidaddle and life to return to normal, it is hard to ignore the possibility the world has changed forever – hopefully for the better in some ways, but whatever the shift, it is taking us with it whether we like it or not.

For a start, the UK economy has been dealt a seismic blow and our industry is currently absorbing the force of that.

Retail has suffered badly and in order to recover, brands and agencies alike have had to adjust.

And fast.

When lockdown was first announced and high street and other non-essential stores were forced to close their doors, we admit we felt concerned.

So we quickly rallied and channelled our concerns into an action plan – a plan to ensure we could overcome the hurdles so brutally thrown in front of us.

Knowledgeable product experts

Early into lockdown, we put the resources available to us to immediate good use.

Shifting our masterclass offering to the virtual world seemed like a no-brainer and it was quickly embraced by our existing communities and attracted entirely new ones along the way.

Rather than delivering demonstrations of our clients’ products in store, face-to-face and in the flesh, we offered them online without losing any of the expertise and panache involved.

Our experienced, knowledgeable product experts set about the task with gusto and were soon broadcasting their videos to audiences across Europe.

Filming the demos live meant interaction was possible, as our team fielded questions from people watching at home, providing them with all the information and instruction they could possibly need without actually touching the product in question.

This approach quickly gathered pace and we soon started to see a significant shift in clients wanting to reach out to their customers in a more authentic and engaging way while their bricks and mortar stores remained closed.

Brands adapting to a new retail landscape

From an industry perspective, it was fascinating to watch as certain brands shone, adapting fast to meet their customers’ needs, doing whatever it took to retain loyalty and keep relationships intact.

Some were able to provide services or products for free to worthy causes or plug supply gaps where it was needed the most.

In mid April, Pret a Manger who, even before lockdown, had stopped charging NHS workers for hot drinks and gave them 50% off everything else in their stores, managed to reopen ten London shops near hospitals thanks to 160 staff members volunteering to run them.

Soon after closing its doors for the first time in two centuries, Claridge’s reopened to offer NHS staff from St Mary’s hospital in Paddington free rooms if they were unable to return home to vulnerable loved ones.

McLaren and Dyson put their factories to work, building the parts required to speed up the national production of ventilators, while Mulberry made surgical gowns.

Other brands offered virtual tours, personal shopping consultations, even video parties – and suddenly we were all invited into each other’s homes, bringing an intimacy to the whole experience.

Retail’s digital transformation

Here at Stellar, our clients have noticeably refocused their marketing strategies this year, incorporating different methodologies to reflect and absorb the new normal.

As an agency, we have been carefully guiding and supporting them through their journeys and are pleased with the results.

Life as we know it has changed and, without a fresh way of thinking, shoppers could quickly become uninspired and disengaged from a brand.

On the high street, with physical stores currently open and battling to entice shoppers back through their doors, there has been an upsurge in eagerness from our clients to trial intriguing pop ups, mid-mall kiosks and experiential sites with products retailed directly from the event.

Online, we have further expanded our digital offering by affording brands the power to connect their product experts, based either in store or in a bespoke showroom setting, with their customers on a one-to-one basis.

This innovative service allows the shopper to browse through a virtual ‘store window’ from the comfort of their own home, while a highly trained brand ambassador introduces them to product ranges, answering questions as they go.

Direct-to-consumer models have also become increasingly popular as brands look not only to cement additional means of serving their customers, but also to safeguard their businesses from future disruption.

Huge D2C success stories such as Bloom and Wild, Made, Gousto and Birchbox to name a few, prove how well the model works and many existing brands now want in on the action.

Social media platforms are the perfect vehicle to reach modern audiences in this way, not simply to showcase and sell products, but also to inspire, awaken and delight online communities, giving them an authentic, tangible reason to connect.

However you look at it, an omnichannel approach to retail was already becoming essential for future brand success, even before the world was altered by the global pandemic.

The events of 2020 have merely served to hammer that message home.

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