Interview: general manager Claire Davenport

Value retailers are making waves in the UK, with single-price-point business Poundland reporting almost £1 billion in annual sales earlier this month, and German discount grocers Aldi and Lidl continuing to bite into the market share of the established supermarkets.

Much – but not all – of their success, has been attributed to the tough economic climate experienced in the UK over the last few years, as a growing number of consumers have started to watch their wallets and tighten the purse strings. The sales growth of clothing retailer Primark, which said this week that sales are up 17% for the year to date, is another case in point to highlight the current demand for value.

One company that emerged on the scene, in 2008, to take advantage of this new retail and economic climate was deals website – and the business's new general manager and vice-president, Claire Davenport, is confident that the prerequisite of value among British shoppers is a permanent change.

"I think that the downturn lasted so long that it has created a nation of people who are more careful about how they shop," she told Essential Retail.

"They are shopping smarter and want to make their money go further. We're seeing a structural change in how people are thinking about their money."

Anecdotal evidence suggests the stigma once associated with saving money and penny-pinching has move on. It is not uncommon to hear customers asking for a deal in-store – even if there is not one being marketed – and many retailers talk about having to serve a new empowered shopper.

Since the latest UK recession, voucher and deal sites have become a more established part of the retail ecosystem, while a recent study from coupon and voucher services provider Valassis and research group GfK NOP found that 84% of supermarket shoppers use vouchers. It also found that the number of shoppers who state they never use this promotional mechanic has shrunk from 26% to 16% over the last 12 months, which suggests bargain-seeking is a growing trend.

Davenport argues that, even though there are signs of improvement in the UK economy after a sustained period in the doldrums, there has been a concerted drive among consumers to be "more value conscious", which she acknowledges is a positive sign for her business.

Having joined Vouchercodes in January after holding senior roles at the likes of internet communication company Skype and financial services firm JP Morgan, the new general manager is keen to see how technology can help enhance the service her business provides retailers across the UK.

Vouchercodes, which aggregates a selection of 2-for-1 restaurant vouchers, printable vouchers, deals and sales for hundreds of online retailers, and makes its money on commission from any sales converted, was acquired in 2011 by a US organisation operating in a similar field, RetailMeNot. There are a number of learnings from across the pond that Davenport is looking to introduce to the UK before the year is out.

"In the US there's been a lot progressing around mobile retail, and in the UK we will be starting to use geo-fencing this year," he noted.

"It will run right through to helping retailers improve their own mobile offering – driving traffic to bricks and mortar stores and helping retailers that are perhaps doing less well in the mobile space by enhancing their offering."

While Vouchercodes already provides in-store offers through its app, the plan is to ramp up location-based voucher redemption opportunities before the end of 2014, with Davenport certain that personalisation and relevancy are the key business drivers over the coming years.

Being able to tell when a customer enters a shopping mall or is near a shopping mall are expected to help increase redemption rates for retail partners and make the offers increasingly relevant to consumers.

"Our parent company has actually geo-fenced nearly every mall in the US, and has had massive success with in-store offers and driving footfall to partners," said Davenport, who wants to "replicate that success".

Further down the line, opportunities to interact with customers on "a more granular level" using iBeacon technology are also being explored, but the managing director admits this is not something that will manifest itself this year.

The evolution from general offers and vouchers to a more personalised approach involves analysis of the 7.7 million-plus registered members who receive Vouchercodes' weekly newsletter featuring an array of special-offer codes.

And as wider market research shows that consumers are increasingly using smartphones and tablets during their individual shopping journeys, Vouchercodes has seen its own app downloaded by over 3.3 million people. Indeed, 50% of its total website traffic comes from mobile devices.

Clients include Sky TV, Marks & Spencer and but the company works with over 2,500 businesses in total and says that it facilitated £448.5 million in UK retailer sales in 2013, alone.

Davenport, a self confessed shopping enthusiast, is now in place to grow the organisation further in the coming years – and she believes it is a good time to work in retail, an industry she has always been keen to operate in.

Commenting on the imminent plans for Vouchercodes, she said: "We've always been a leader in the voucher space and we're always looking to evolve and try new things.

"In particular, we are working out where we sit on targeting and personalisation. We're doing a lot more with data – either the data people have told us explicitly or behavioural data – to work out where people shop or might like to shop. And not only that, but where they are, what device they're on and where they are on their shopping journey."

Relevance and personalisation are buzzwords for many of the UK retailing community right now, as they look to better understand and serve their customers. The science behind that research is high on Davenport's agenda, too, as Vouchercodes looks to evolve its own offering in the coming months, and benefit from the UK shopper's seemingly growing appetite for a deal.

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