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2018 Retail in Review

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In other areas of industry around now, it’s normal to be taking the foot off the gas and getting ready to down tools for the holidays. Retail goes against the grain in that respect – many of our traders and clients are gearing up for one of their busiest periods in the new year and planning for the next peak in the retail calendar after that. We’ve got a duty to support them with as much energy and enthusiasm as any other time of year so the buzz in the AP office hasn’t wavered at all.

In another anomaly, while most sectors go quiet on the news front when Christmas beckons, retail dominates headlines over the festive period and this year is no exception.

I’ve been asked a number of times in the last few weeks how 2018 has been for me and for Access Point and I’ve given it some thought. The current mixed bag of news – taking in online retail, the high street and shopping centre/destination retailing, with positives and negatives in every camp, is typical of this year. There’s no such thing as a slow news day in retail – 2018 has proved that.

Indeed, 2018 has been a year of change.  Retail’s evolution has continued from previous years but has picked up a pace in the last 12 months.

The high street has certainly taken a kicking – I’ll be watching with interest to see how the Government’s High Street Report, being led by Sir John Timpson, impacts the British High Street next year and beyond. But it’s by no means the only area suffering; the decline of physical retailing has started to hit the shopping centres too.

Events throughout the year have impacted the industry in good ways and bad – the weather, a Royal wedding, a World Cup and the ongoing ups and downs of Brexit.

Black Friday seemed to come and go without the fanfare of previous years. The Capgemini IMRG e-Retail Sales Index last week confirmed online retail sales suffered its worst growth since 2011 for the month of November, attributing results to what was the lowest-ever growth for a Black Friday week. It seems to have lost some of the excitement.

But the retail sector is nothing if not resilient. Whether by force or choice, businesses are looking at consumer trends and how they can best meet customer needs.

That’s meant our industry, commercialisation, has come into its own in many ways this year. It’s allowed shopping centres and retailers to try new things with little commitment.

For example, we’ve seen the concession model rise in popularity – with Oasis’ move into Sainsbury’s stores being the obvious big name to mention. It’s a win/win situation that helps both organisations manage costs better. A number of our clients are considering the options this kind of arrangement could present to them in future. It allows the concession retailer to trial a strategy and the umbrella retailer, like Sainsbury’s, to benefit from extra footfall into their stores. If this strategy starts to gather appeal we could see supermarkets become the modern day department store.

We’ve also seen evidence amongst our client base of online retailers starting to experiment with physical stores in the same way Amazon did for Black Friday and Notonthehighstreet created a physical presence for Christmas.

Feedback from Access Point’s traders and partners reflects the national trends – consumers are wanting more from their retail experience and their tastes are becoming more adventurous as trends are shared online. The cycle – of introducing a new product or service and then it going into decline as the next new thing replaces it – is getting shorter. That means organising a store presence becomes more difficult.

The changing cycles and the way every retailer, shopping centre and destination is dealing with them, has meant commercialisation has started to play a more important part in the industry.

A lot of our conversations and partnerships revolve around commercialisation helping some of the smaller, local retailers set-up in supermarkets, to work alongside the concessions and to increase the reasons for consumers to visit a venue.

The online pure plays we deal with are looking at pop-up strategies as they create a physical presence around specific events in the calendar close to their targeted audience.

The ‘pop-up’ or mobile strategy is a fantastic way of servicing fast-changing consumer demands as the trader is not anchored to a store, they don’t have the high cost of start-up and they can provide the service where the consumers are at the right time. That kind of agility is crucial for traders in today’s market and that’s been emphasised massively in 2018. We’ll be sharing our advice and experience on the business of a pop-up in the new year – if it’s something you’re considering, look out for it in early 2019.

The last 12 months has seen technology continue to play a key role in improving customer experience with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) cementing their relevance in retail. We’ll share some examples of how AI and VR are being used in the commercialisation arena in 2019 too. Watch this space!

For Access Point we saw many trends in 2018 that point to an exciting future. I’d say it’s been a ‘Business Not As Usual’ kind of year. Business is definitely there for the taking but the environment in which it’s happening is evolving at an astonishing pace.

It’s been an honour to work with traders and centres who are using innovation and creativity to keep up with that change.

From all of the team at Access Point, we wish all of our customers the very best for the festive period and for continued success in the year ahead. We’re proud to be with you on your journey and we’re looking forward to working with you on your plans for 2019.

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