No matter how big or beloved your brand, tapping into the power of local will deliver loyalty and growth.

Welcome to the new normal – same as the old normal, but more complex. It’s been two years since the UK’s first lockdown, when life as we know it changed forever. Old news? Perhaps. But as we finally start to trust that the worst of the Covid crisis is behind us, you could be forgiven for thinking that our collective return to ‘normal’ has been just the tiniest bit overhyped. Against the background of war in Europe, unprecedented rises in fuel prices, the linked dip in consumer confidence and predicted cost of living crisis – it’s not a stretch to say retail has rarely operated in such a complex, challenging environment.

And yet, there is cause for optimism. Covid, for me, highlighted two things: the resilience, energy and creativity of our retail community and the true power of local. Local connections, local relationships, local knowledge; no matter how big your brand, no matter how many stores you have and no matter how compelling your digital presence, the retailers we work with tell us that tapping into the power of local is the magic dust that drives positive change and sales growth. So how do retailers tap into this superpower?

First things first: don’t start with HQ

It’s time to stop thinking of your head office as the powerhouse of your business. Instead, focus on the potent, untapped power of your local store teams. This is the point of connection, where physical and digital presences come together. Unleash the power of the warm welcome, the helpful advice, the intuitive connection, the seamless service, that can only be delivered by your frontline people.

Put the right tools in the right hands

The interface between your digital world, your physical store and your customer must be seamless and slick. We all know that customers live in the moment and want products immediately. Click and collect goes some way towards meeting that need but is often only available in certain stores. But with the right tool, any customer can message any store to enquire and reserve their desired item in minutes, through a couple of short, human-led interactions.

As a direct customer interaction, that’s already powerful. But switched-on teams can go further. Say your customer wants to purchase a coffee table. They’ve browsed online and contacted their local store to reserve one. But the conversation reveals they’re unsure about the table selected. They send a picture of their living room, and the employee can now either confirm their choice or suggest a couple of alternatives – either way, the customer is reassured and makes a purchase. This action builds connections and provides opportunities, because any switched-on team member will also suggest (or even add in) a few gorgeous accessories to complete the look.

It doesn’t have to be reactive, either. Say it’s an unseasonably warm day in a certain part of the country. Store teams can create hyper-localised special offers on barbeque food, patio parasols or even sunscreen to push out to VIP customers. Equally, if a new rug comes into stock that would go perfectly with that coffee table, why wouldn’t you want to let your customer know?

At Critizr, we call this Conversational Commerce – a way of moving beyond CX to deliver a truly personal service that unleashes the power of local to build loyalty and sales.

People first, technology second

This mindset shift is a human revolution, not a technical one. It feels like a return to the golden age of retail, where sales assistants knew the tastes of their VIP clients inside-out, you’d be right. Technology is vital, but only as a tool to bring those timeless human values right into the heart of your brand.

Unleashing the power of local means three things. It means training – sometimes almost ‘untraining’ - teams who have been encouraged to escalate upwards consistently. Recruit people who want to connect with people and empower them to bring local context, connections and problem solving into their roles. If the balance of power in your organisation leans into head office teams, how can you change that? Instead of information, issues and energy flowing upwards, how can you spread it outwards across every store in your network? This might involve cultural change, but the effort will be worth it.

Secondly, it means investing in the right solution, one that’s been specifically developed for physical outlets. Your store teams need to be able to connect with customers and make autonomous decisions that drive change.

Thirdly, it’s about an imaginative, creative and exciting re-imaging of what a local store can be. Let your store teams tell you what they think will work for their customers. Getting more involved in the local community, developing a fulfilment space for online orders and building more of a social hub for local customers. Whatever it may be, it will transform your relationship with customers, driving huge amounts of loyalty and engagement (from staff and customers).

Yes, the new normal might be just as tough as the old one. But by unleashing the power of local, your brand could be on the cusp of something exceptional – a new golden age of retail. Like the old normal, only better.

To find out more about Critizr and the services they provide to the retail industry, click here.

This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.