One of the big questions for retail in 2021 is whether people will return to in-person shopping once lockdowns ease. Although the percentage of customers who feel safe going to a store is increasing, latent risk is still powering e-commerce.

The principles of retail branding, based on the need to strengthen brand positioning through experience, have not been altered by this crisis, but it is clear that today it is much more difficult to achieve the desired results. Three major factors have been responsible. On the one hand, the consolidation of the Internet as a very influential channel for purchase. On the other hand, the difficulty of creating meaningful brand experiences for customers and, finally, the blurring of the barriers between the physical world and the digital environment.

It should be noted that Consumers start from totally different expectations when engaging with brands in the online and offline worlds. In digital channels, customers are looking for convenience, ease of search (compare, contrast, read opinions and comments) and the ability to easily access a wide range of products to compare and make a value-based decision. In physical environments, the consumer’s main needs are based on reinforcing their experience, touching the product and physically feeling it to get a deeper evaluation.

But the truth is that both worlds, physical and digital, are not separate universes and this makes it essential for the brand to ensure its coherence between the different channels according to what it represents, the communication of its positioning, the connection of its visual identity and the improvement of the customer experience.

Today, it is imperative for stores to adapt to digitalization, for example, by offering information about products, interaction without physical contact and the promotion of loyalty actions. Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence are part of the present and can culminate purchasing processes by consolidating the digital experience in physical spaces. Good examples are the virtual fitting rooms of some brands or the IKEA PLACES application, which includes a wide variety of 3D scale furniture, so that we can see thanks to augmented reality how they would look in our home.

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Continuing with technology and reinforcing the concept of humanization of brands, it is worth considering the capabilities of voice commerce. Customers value relationships, and there’s nothing like a personal assistant when it comes to searching for and purchasing products online through voice commands. Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Human Avatars… are some of the possibilities available to brands.

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Faced with this reality, brands must incorporate technology, big data. A huge challenge for many, but one that can mean a great competitive advantage in the market. Sephora is a great example of the use of information, from its app customers rate the products and indirectly they are providing information for the sales staff about their preferences.

This ties directly into the importance of personalization. Customers’ expectations of brands are growing more and more. They like to be listened to, understood, and able to offer unique experiences and products. Personalization is key on the path to loyalty. On the other hand, the customer journey, the decision journey, has become unstructured, no longer linear, which means an over-effort for true customer knowledge and personalization strategies.

The sense of exclusivity is also an opportunity for many brands. The pandemic has boosted some services such as online shopping and in-store pickup with quick access. Retailers can take it a step further and offer concierge services that deliver orders directly to the curb or even to the car when possible. It is a way of adding value that incorporates services related until now with a certain level of luxury and exclusivity.

Consumers’ new engagement with retail is in the spotlight as store reopenings take place. But one thing remains constant: strong brands have survived disruptive changes in the past and will continue to do so. The key still lies in their brand strategies, which are truly responsible for connecting with customers. This always implies not staying in the tactics of the moment but in broadening the vision in the identification of a meaning that remains close to a purpose for the brand, the construction of a strong identity, the coherence in the image… All of them are a fundamental part of any marketing strategy. branding.

Carlos Puig Falcó
CEO of Branward