Thought Leadership

How can marketing reinvigorate the high street as retail returns?

As lockdown restrictions ease and consumers crave a slice of normal life how can brands best market themselves in the midst of social distancing and heightened anxiety?

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


Historically scarcity has been a marketing tool which has been largely restricted to luxury goods and limited editions. However, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis the everyday products and services that consumers have taken for granted have been out of reach. From grabbing a latte on the way into the office to impulse shopping ‘on the go’, retail has ground to a halt in the midst of lockdown. 

Now as lockdown restrictions ease and nonessential shops can open, brands face a marketing conundrum. At a time when retailers need to maintain social distancing in stores, how do they balance the need to invest in building their brand with the complex consumer environment they face? 

In the current anxiety-fuelled consumer landscape the uncomfortable fact is a queue stretching outside of the Liverpool branch of Primark has fast become a lightning rod for fear surrounding a potential second wave of Coronavirus. In the midst of this continued uncertainty and consumer anxiety, celebratory reopening marketing campaigns would fail to hit the right tone. Yet there is no question that marketing has a huge role to play both in reassuring consumers of the extra safety measures that retailers are making and in reminding them of the return of those every day retail rituals we took for granted.

With many parts of the high-street facing financial ruin, the role of marketing in boosting the high street should not be overlooked. With this in mind we asked a selection of industry experts, how can marketing reinvigorate the high street as retail returns?

People will be shopping to gain a sense of normality, but that won’t reduce initial anxiety.

Alistair Niven

Alistair Niven

Alistair Niven, BD Network.jpg

Account Strategist

BD Network

The queues outside Primark on 15th June proved two things: 1) absence does make the heart grow fonder and 2) bricks and mortar retail is not through yet. To stimulate growth, retail marketing needs to deliver against two strategic plans: an immediate transition plan and a longer-term plan, from Q4 into 2021.

In the transition period, shoppers taking their first, tentative steps back into non-essential stores will do so with a renewed perspective. After months of lockdown, retail marketing stimulus will have greater stand out because people have not been exposed to it for so long. Messaging needs to capitalise on this heightened awareness, whilst being mindful of prevalent shopper need states.

People will be shopping to gain a sense of normality, but that won’t reduce initial anxiety. Comms need to reassure them that stores are safe to enter and what to expect inside. Browsing and time in store will be greatly reduced so store media needs to highlight the tangible range of items available to take home today (immediacy is one of bricks and mortar’s greatest assets) and navigate them to their point of interest quickly.

Marketing also needs to counter the reduced spending and price sensitivity brought by the recession. Stores should celebrate being open again and welcome customers back, rewarding them with limited time only discounts, vouchers or gifts to build footfall. These should be leveraged around key categories; if cosmetics stations saw high footfall but are now closed, offer free testers to add value beyond price and convert future purchase.

In Q4, having been separated from friends and family for such a large part of 2020, you can guarantee Christmas celebrations are going to be big this year, recession or not, and more emotionally charged than ever. What we’re developing with clients now is their Q4 plan for after the transition period has ended and shoppers are able to behave more normally in store, browsing, gift hunting etc. Promotional investment will be key for brands looking to stand out in multi-brand retailers during this time, regardless of category. Promotional activity will not only help differentiate brands from competitors but also unlock more space in store in the run up to Christmas, which will be particularly key in FMCG, and head into 2021 strong.

The next six months will be tough, but the pandemic has highlighted our resilience and ability to adapt as a nation. This has not only renewed our national pride but also fostered a sense of local community that has spurred us into supporting local business. If we invite the public to get together behind their high street and support business under these conditions, they will do so.

Digital in-store isn’t new, but this situation presents a great opportunity to prove that technology shouldn’t be there for innovation’s sake.

Sam Lloyd

Sam Lloyd

Sam Lloyd, Barrows Global.png

Director, Strategy & Growth

barrows global

As the high-street opens up, how will shoppers react to the ‘new normal’? Early indicators are promising, with queues outside popular outlets and sentiment amongst consumers more positive than previous economic downturns.

In the short term, accessibility is vital for overcoming anxiety amongst shoppers. According to EY, 52% of people say they will change the way they shop over the coming year with health concerns driving this view. While safety is paramount, retailers should strive to minimise friction and inconvenience to avoid shoppers thinking it’s not worth the effort. Safety protocols should be baked into the design of the in-store experience rather than bolted on. Whether that is using personalised appointments or creative PPE, retail marketing can play a crucial role in making the in-store experience safe but engaging.

Digital in-store isn’t new, but this situation presents a great opportunity to prove that technology shouldn’t be there for innovation’s sake. We expect to see a proper leap in the use of digital in-store to improve the shopper experience. From helping brands to differentiate and build trust through personalisation, to the accelerated penetration of scan and go and contactless payment that can help to reduce friction. It is important to note that automation will unlock the most valuable tool that exists for physical stores: the people who can spend a higher proportion of time engaging with shoppers.

Longer term, it is crucial to consider the growing rise in ethical consumption and localisation. According to PWC, Conscientious Consumerism has become even more prevalent as a result of lockdown and consumers indicate they will shop more ethically in future, particularly younger shoppers, with the outlook looking promising for local and independent retailers. The prevailing narrative that physical retail is dead is a sensationalised and incomplete representation of this change. Shoppers will vote with their feet and time to visit spaces and places that reflect this changing mentality. That is likely to mean less insipid, overly saturated, “mass-market” retail stores & more unique, characterful and cultural stores. We can’t wait.

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