Christmas in July: Propeller’s retail panel on Black Friday and more

Retail technology experts gave useful insights and advice for hard-pressed high street operators at Propeller’s Christmas in July: ding dong not so merrily on the high street? panel.

The panel explored emerging consumer trends, the challenges and pitfalls offered by Black Friday, the ways technology can help empower staff and what tech suppliers need to know when pitching in their solutions to potential buyers.

Panel participants included Martin Corcoran, Head of Insight Consulting at Summit, Eugene Fisher, Business Architect at River Island, Varuna Jayawardena, Senior Trade Planning & Commercial Development Manager of and Matthew Walsh, Director of Data and Retail at IMRG. The event, held at Summit London, was chaired by Lucy Tesseras of Marketing Week.

A lot of focus was given to Black Friday and Walsh said IMRG data showed the average participating retailer growing 12% on the day. It was pointed out if anything goes wrong for a retailer in terms of pricing, poor stock forecasting, site crashes or failure in fulfilment, it can have a serious knock-on effect for Christmas. Get it wrong and customer loyalty can be seriously damaged, margin given away and returned stock left out of the Christmas pipeline.

From a timing perspective, Corcoran pointed out that Black Friday falls a week ahead of payday for most people (November 23rd) and “customers could feel the pinch a little more and be more conscientious with their spending”. He added that retailers needed to know their customer and their category and “to use data to validate and future proof your decisions.”

Fisher said that retailers needed to know “the correct Black Friday lever to pull” and while discounts were the driver for consumers the experience in physical stores was beginning to count, while Jayawardena added: “It’s important to know what the goal is. It might not be to sell loads of product. It might be to raise awareness or to add on some value to shift old stock. It depends on where the retailer’s trading position currently sits but holding onto those goals throughout trading period is vital.”

Looking at what technology is currently over-hyped, the panel plumped for AR/VR but said this was because it was still in its infancy. Fisher said that AR/VR had not yet developed in a way “that meaningfully connects with the customer.”

Walsh added that personalisation software was still a long way from the dream of tailoring to exactly what a single person wants. “Personalisation is good, but it is burdened by the customer expectation of where it should already be.”

Advice for suppliers looking to attract interest and pitch their wares from the panel included cutting the jargon and meaningless marketing blurb. Walsh urged sellers to “make it simple, so the potential buyer can understand what it is you’re selling”, while Jayawardena added that vendors got more traction if they showed their tech “was attacking one problem with one solution” rather than vaguely aiming at a lot of potential areas where the tech might be able to help.

To get the tills ringing at Christmas Jayawardena stressed that retailers needed to get their planning right and use joined-up technology and platforms to offer next day click ‘n’ collect. This will scoop up customers when they lose confidence in normal online ordering dates.

Fisher summed up the challenge by saying that those high street retailers that can “seamlessly leverage their physical and digital estates and use them more effectively for more specific customer segments had the best chance of enjoying a profitable festive season.”