Komal HelyerKomal HelyerMay 6, 2020


The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in recent history. For many brands, this poses a significant challenge – particularly given that there’s no ‘rulebook’ to follow.

At times like these, brands and businesses need to show real agility as the customer experience becomes, above all else, entirely about empathetic engagement.

For certain sectors, providing experiences that are both relevant and considerate of the current situation can be extremely tough. For example, a brand like Secret Cinema usually relies on the physical presence of people attending an event; it’s not primarily geared up for providing remote entertainment. Many restaurant businesses are in the same position; there are likely more restaurant businesses without the operations to run a delivery service that is quite as lucrative as the usual sittings compared with those that run both successfully.

However, during this time, the key to adapting can be as simple as listening to your gut and leveraging emotional intelligence – asking yourself, what does a customer of ours want from us right now if what we’re providing is not an essential product?

As a society, we are all going through the same motions. Now more than ever, we can put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and better understand what they might be looking for from their favourite brands. What’s crucial right now is that brands listen and seek to improve the lives of the public with every touchpoint.

Providing a sense of connection

Whilst we are all in lockdown, the need for connection and keeping in touch with friends and family is heightened – as is the need for a sense of routine and activities to look forward to. With this in mind, the Secret Cinema brand has pivoted to provide a schedule of remote entertainment packages to its ‘community’ of customers through its Secret Sofa project.

Every week, the brand encourages its fans to create their own immersive film experiences at home by providing a series of well-loved films packed with surprises, bespoke content and interactive elements. They have also teamed up with HäagenDazs to provide ice cream deliveries straight to people’s doors. At the heart of Secret Cinema experiences is audience participation and strangers coming together to experience films in new and interesting ways.

As such, they have tapped into new needs – staying indoors yet remaining connecting – whilst maintaining an experience that is still very relevant to its core. Those taking part can dress up and take the participation element as far as they want to.

When lockdown is lifted, Secret Cinema will have continued to engage its customer base by providing them with a thoughtful experience true to its unique values. It will also have strengthened bonds with consumers looking to the brand for routine and a social connection.

Using resources for good

Similarly, when everything feels uncertain and unclear, customers will be looking to their favourite brands for reassurance that they are still going and navigating the crisis. With brands communicating in a way that was similar to before, customers may feel that this brings with it a sense of calm. However, the experiences that come with this need to be different in order to stay relevant.

For example, beauty brands right now may have less relevance in our lives given that we’re all hunkering down at home and interacting with strangers far less. That doesn’t mean to say we’ll never need them again. So, in order to stay relevant and encourage sales in the short term, several beauty brands are showing that they’re giving something back and using this down time to help the cause of fighting the spread of the virus. Some are donating their proceeds to charity, others allowing their warehouses and units to be used to create hand sanitizer, and some are even donating produce for free to key workers within society.

Those that are doing this well and getting through to customers will have secured a place in their minds when they are next in need of purchasing beauty products.

Another great example is Virgin Money’s London Marathon this year, which has been postponed from its original date of 26th April to 4th October. Rather than leaving the 26th April to pass by with no homage to the event that could have been, the event organisers encouraged participation in ‘The 2.6 Challenge’, which aimed to raise funds to fill the gap left by the postponement for many UK charities. The movement has had great success so far and has brought together all corners of society from runners, to athletes to primary school children and the elderly. Resources that would have been used to coordinate the event have now been utilised in a way that does good both to charities and society at large.

Focus on the now whilst keeping your eye on recovery

Likewise, right now, it’s important to stay present to what is happening in the moment but with thoughts also being dedicated to the recovery period. It’s likely that customers won’t be buying and spending in the same way that they used to for quite some time – even when the lockdown is lifted. This means that now is the perfect time to improve your digital customer experiences and prepare for an extended period of time where customers continue to adjust to an even newer ‘normal’.

The brands that survive and thrive will be those taking more proactive steps to engage customers, comfort them, go above and beyond – and really show that they are a support for the community as well as in it for the long-haul. Brands that do well now will earn themselves a great reputation, which will be essential in the future.

Komal HelyerKomal HelyerJanuary 14, 2020


With January comes the opportunity to refocus and set goals for the year ahead – even more so when this coincides with the start of a new decade.

For independent retail brands, delivering a better experience to customers will be front and centre in 2020 and beyond. The pressure remains fierce for brands to ensure they are one step ahead at outshining their competition and demonstrating a deep understanding of their customers through hyper personalised interactions every stage of the journey.

With that in mind, we’ve looked at how independent brands can hit the mark when it comes to the customer experience in 2020.

Make yourself useful

Whilst consumers are in the lucky position of being spoilt for choice in the retail environment, the always connected and ever-busy customer can also be left feeling a little overwhelmed when it comes to making purchase decisions.

Whilst consumers are going to engage with the brands that are relevant to them at that moment and demonstrate a rich understanding of them, they are also in search of ways to make their lives easier. For independent brands, being considered useful in the eyes of the consumer can be hugely beneficial to growing a successful relationship. Our recent study revealed that almost three quarters of consumers like it when brands remind them via email that contracts or subscriptions are coming to an end. In a similar vein, we discovered that 63 percent of consumers want more brands to give them the option of receiving a notification when an item that is out of stock becomes available again at their local store.

These are just two examples of how smaller retail brands can provide convenience to the customer, and ultimately give them one less thing to think about. 

Don’t neglect the opportunities to personalise

No matter what the brand or product, there is no longer space for delivering a generic experience to a customer. One of the main reasons a consumer might opt for shopping with an independent brand over a larger, more established store is due to the expectations that they will receive a better experience.

A Pure360 study found that 43% of shoppers would consider buying from an independent over a larger retailer to feel treated like a valued customer rather than just a number. Smaller brands should remain mindful of this in 2020, and recognise that they can serve a real purpose in the lives of the consumer and the retail experience they provide to them.

Whether it’s through the exemplary customer service, making product recommendations that are hyper relevant for that individual or sharing important information about a customer’s local store, there are now endless ways to make an experience more memorable.

Consider how Brexit might impact customer behaviour

The Brexit deadline might have moved on more than once occasion during 2019, but it looks as though the UK will now be leaving the EU on January 31. For retail brands of all sizes, consideration must be given to how this could impact consumer behaviour so they can adapt quickly and avoid potentially negative consequences.

We found that for almost a third of consumers, there is an expectation for brands to make the country of origin clearer for the items they are buying – particularly online – so they avoid paying additional taxes on their purchases. Delivery times are another consideration for consumers, with a quarter wanting clarity around the country of origin when they are making purchases after Brexit.

For homegrown independent brands, Brexit could actually create a real opportunity to build deeper relationships with existing and new customers. Putting transparency at the heart customer experience will be critical, so that consumers have clarity around areas like taxes and delivery times, and have the confidence to make a purchase.

As the new year begins, it brings opportunities for small, independent retailers to refresh their marketing strategies to ensure customers are treated to the best possible experience in 2020. From finding new ways to deliver more personalised interactions to adapting to the possible impacts of Brexit, independent brands that can create experiences that are relevant and contextual to customers, their behaviour and the world around them will reap the rewards in the months ahead.

Komal HelyerKomal HelyerOctober 26, 2018


The best thing to come out of this summer’s World Cup – aside from a renewed confidence in a habitually underwhelming national football team – was the boost that England’s good tournament run gave to the British retail sector.

As the Three Lions outperformed the usual expectations, sales of beers, barbecue supplies, and big-screen TVs saw the feel-good factor spread from homes to the high street. However, while the strong summer showing gave retail bosses plenty to cheer about, it has also brought the long-term problems facing traditional British retailers into sharper focus, with a steep decline in sales and serious difficulties reported by an array of household names.

In the last month alone we have had more reports of financial difficulties from the likes of John Lewis, River Island, B&Q and Shop Direct – owner of digital brands Very and Littlewoods – with some seeing as much as a 99 percent drop-off in revenue streams.

This is a worrying, if unsurprising, trend for Britain’s larger, more established retailers, as the results of our latest research conducted with YouGov indicate that 49 percent of British consumers are now unlikely to go to a large retailer first when purchasing a specific item.

While sales are down for larger retailers it doesn’t mean to say that consumers haven’t simply stopped spending their money. Rather, their habits and expectations are continuing to shift.

For instance, 43 percent of shoppers would consider shopping with an independent over a larger retailer to feel treated like a valued customer rather than just a number. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that almost three quarters of British shoppers want the government to do more to back the growth of independent retailers in the coming years.

The challenge for independent retailers – to capitalise on the shifting trends in consumer attitude – is by no means insurmountable. Independents already differentiate themselves from larger retail brands by being the kind of store that offers customers a niche product set coupled with a more personalised experience, and they need to reflect this in the marketing materials they produce and the messages they send to their customer base.

They can go one better by proving that they can adapt quickly to the ever-changing needs of the contemporary consumer, demonstrating a level of agility that is simply unfeasible for many larger high street brands.

For independents to truly maximise the opportunity that has been created by the lethargy of the larger retailers, investing in digital is fast becoming a requirement rather than a mere recommendation. Alongside providing better value for money and a more personal customer service, what customers really want is the ability to shop in the way that best suits them.

The popularity of online retail is rising rapidly, with a record 18.2 percent of all consumer spending in retail made digitally according to the latest ONS figures and 39 percent of customers surveyed by Pure360 preferring to do all their shopping online as it makes their lives easier.

There is a growing demand for an Amazon-like online experience across all brands, an expectation of the kind of personalisation and customer service that comes with it regardless of the size of the brand, which means that even bricks and mortar boutiques need to harness the benefits of multi-channel retail by offering such options as synchronised online-to-offline shopping baskets and tailored post-purchase support. This is something independents can achieve, but only if they invest in the right kind of technology.

Independents must also ensure they are nurturing the right kind of customer loyalty, avoiding the habitual, passive loyalty so characteristic of faltering traditional retailers and instead fostering active loyalty by winning consumers’ trust along with their wallets. This is another area where Amazon is so successful, with a third of customers identifying them as a favourite brand according to a recent report from the Direct Marketing Association.

The value of customers who shop on a ‘heart-over-habit’ basis cannot be understated. Their loyalty is built on trust and bettered through a combination of utility, accessibility and relevance, and retailers need to be careful to communicate their usefulness and relevance in the right way.

Again, the solution is digital; email marketing continues to emerge as a clear marketing preference for consumers, operating in that sweet spot between the inconvenience of a physical mail-out and the invasive feel of a direct message or text. People know where they stand with email and trust it as a channel for delivering useful materials in a timely manner that doesn’t feel intrusive.

It remains to be seen what happens to the high street as we know it, but what is clear is that independent retailers now have a golden opportunity to thrive in this challenging retail climate. It’s possible even for the smallest teams to earn themselves a large, loyal following by exceeding expectations and achieving great results.

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Customer Experience Magazine is the online magazine packed full of industry news, blogs, features, reports, case studies, video bites and international stories all focusing on customer experience.



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