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Retailers must encourage digital capabilities, warns shopping expert

Enda McShane

Retailers must step up their digital capabilities if they want customers to return to physical stores, it was claimed today.

Enda McShane, chief executive of shopper engagement agency Velocity Worldwide, said retailers must empower their shoppers to engage digitally even when in a bricks and mortar store.

The agency surveyed 2,000 consumers - finding that around one half said they would visit a shopping destination more frequently if they could pre-book their shopping trips.

And the agency also found that customers wanted to know how long queues were outside a shop before they would commit to visiting.

And allowing people to find out in advance if stock they required was in store would also encourage shoppers to visit.

Velocity Worldwide offers creative marketing and retail technology services through its proprietary platform Darius for Retail. It’s also now launhced Darius-Q, an advanced reservations app for shopping malls and retail brands, which is designed to reduce queue times for shoppers and regulate visitor numbers.

Mr McShane said: “The global pandemic has escalated a path that shoppers were already on towards a physical shopping experience with supporting digital capabilities. What we have seen in the last few months is that the retailers who are investing in this space now and preparing for the future are the ones who are going to be in the strongest position during the recovery phase.”

Mr McShane said that an embrace of both digital methods and physical stores had helped cement the success of international retailer, Zara.

But in contrast, he said US retailer Gap had failed to move with the times.

Last week, Gap - which has two stores in Northern Ireland - announced it was considering closing its stores all around Europe.

It has a store in Belfast’s Donegall Place as well as an outlet at The Boulevard, outside Banbridge.

A spokeswoman said: “We believe in the power of Gap brand internationally and we are looking at how we bring the brand to life around the globe.

“We have a strong franchise partner model for international markets, with 400+ Gap franchise stores in 35 countries, including Europe. We are exploring different ways to operate our Gap business in Europe.

“One of the options that will be explored is the possible closure of our company-owned and operated Gap Specialty and Gap Outlet/Gap Stock stores in the UK, France, Ireland and Italy at the end of the second quarter next year. The business is also looking at different ways to serve European customers such as franchise, third-party partnerships and alternative ways to operate the European e-commerce business.”

Mr McShane said: “I think the big issue for Gap is that they haven’t been relevant for a long time because of the rise of fast, disposable fashion brands like Primark and online brands like ASOS.

“They’re caught in the middle and they’re not reaching their audience in the right way.

“Some physical retaielrs have introduced digital service alongside bricks and mortar.

“For example, Zara is creating a fantastic ecoysytem of technologies in its stores. You can walk in, try things on - or you could before Covid - then you can order online and have it sent to your home.”

He said Gap had also undermined its own brand through discounting. “They rarely charge full price, their range and experience is so limited and they discount almost all the time.

“That has killed the brand.”

Belfast Telegraph