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Opinion: Keeping customers engaged in the value clothing sector

The past decade has seen the rise and rise of a powerful new industry segment: value clothing. This segment has outperformed the general clothing market for each of the past 15 years, and research shows that even in the last few years its value has grown by more than £2.5 billion. ABC1 customers now account for 45% of all shoppers in this sector. Affordable fast fashion is a long-term trend.

To engage customers in such a competitive, growing marketplace, retailers have employed many different in-store strategies, with varying levels of success. It’s clear that certain retailers have got the right ideas, investing in the in-store space and effectively targeting price-savvy shoppers.

However, some are doing neither and wasting an opportunity to grow their market share. Brands must consider tone of voice, category management, discounting and consumer navigation to ensure customers make return visits and repeat purchases. With technological developments letting consumers shop anytime and anywhere online, it’s more important than ever for retailers to provide an in-store experience that shoppers want to engage with if they are going to continue driving footfall.

In-store signage can impact positively or negatively on customer satisfaction and the experience. Customers may perceive high levels of service if presented with accurate and relevant information through their shopping journey. A retailer that gets this right has much to gain, as it’s a frontline communication that builds customer trust. It’s also an opportunity for a brand to communicate its tone of voice. Great attention must be paid to in-store navigation as negative experiences can leave customers confused, annoyed and less likely to return. Customers want convenience, ease and clarity as they navigate through a purchase journey.

Floor space, stock levels and lifestyle POS are all key factors in allowing stores to inform and shape customer journeys.

Well-thought out floor plans enable better categorisation and store navigation. Segmenting ranges clearly, and guiding shoppers between categories, is a smart way to ensure a store’s full breadth of choice is seen. Tesco’s F&F and ASDA’s George have executed this skilfully with strong merchandising plans, bespoke lettering in high traffic areas and header boards in the majority of aisles.

When a customer can browse categories easily they are more likely to pick up items, have increased dwell-time and eventually buy into the brand.

Tone of voice is an important aspect of the in-store experience – with appropriate, emotive communications you can ‘speak’ to your customers at various points. It builds brands personality quickly and can effectively link with omnichannel trading without eating up staff time. F&F and New Look have successfully presented multiple platforms through posters and tech, and actively encourage engagement. In today’s digitalised environment, retailers have no option but to ensure they are raising awareness of all the channels available to encourage a seamless transition between on and offline trade.

The use of editorial photography and LED lighting can also help shape shopper opinions, as Primark has demonstrated. Its focus on in-category POS has developed a confident tone of voice, showing it has climbed up the ladder in terms of style.

The successful execution of a sale requires carefully considered positioning, visual standout and captive price points to entice customers to engage. Messaging differs from store to store, although New Look has particularly strong organisation and zoning.  

What has become apparent in recent years is the importance of a rounded shopper journey. Opportunities to improve this are now greater than ever. Research has found that almost ten per cent of all spend in the value sector has come from online this year, showing customers still prefer to use a physical store. That said, the smartest retailers are using digital opportunities to enhance the in-store experience even further. Those capable of marrying the physical environment with digital offerings to create a brand that’s accessible when and where the customer wants will be more likely to see a greater return.

With price not considered a differentiator, discount clothing retailers must understand what’s important to their customers and recognise this throughout the in-store experience. With huge value to be gained from the sector, now is the time for retailers to make the investment that will enable them to engage their key customers, seamlessly navigate them through the purchase journey, and see them returning again and again.

Richard Steel is head of review at The Delta Group