Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that retail sales in the UK fell by 1.5 per cent in December 2017 compared with November, which underlines the difficulties that retailers are facing in terms of persuading consumers to spend money. According to retail technology expert Conversity, addressing this squeeze in consumer spending is not purely about improving a company’s external image, but also tackling the internal productivity issues that continue to dog UK businesses.

According to the ONS figures, retail figures for 2017 as a whole saw the lowest annual growth since 2013, contributing towards a prediction that retail sales would contribute nothing towards economic growth in the last three months of 2017. While there are certainly other factors at play in the current status quo, retail leaders should realise that revamping internal working practices and culture to enable staff to do their jobs more efficiently is an essential part of improving levels of customer engagement, and therefore encouraging consumers to come back to shopping.

Dave Stark, CEO at Conversity, said: “We all know that good marketing and promoting a positive brand image are extremely powerful tools in initiating the customer engagement process. However, efforts to increase sales and foster long-term loyalty with customers will fall flat if staff are not empowered to serve and support customers as efficiently as possible across sales channels.

Consumers are faced with overwhelming choice, so If people working at retail businesses are unable to help consumers to browse and shop in the way that best suits them, their ability to serve, convert and retain customers will be hampered. As a result, sales average order values and frequency of spend will be negatively impacted. At a time when consumers are already squeezed, this has the potential to be particularly damaging.”

To bring about greater productivity in retail businesses, Stark believes that cultivating an evolution in philosophy is key, alongside a commitment to making greater use of technology to ensure that service levels are consistent and meet customer demands for personalised, needs-based recommendations.

Stark added: “An ambitious retail business should be looking at how its workforce is operating, and ask itself a few important questions. Are staff at all levels of the organisation able to bring the best possible experience to customers without significant delay? Are sales, retention and customer care processes fully joined up, all the way from the point of sale in-store or online, to contact centre teams behind the scenes? Is an organisation’s ability to provide this level of highly personalised, comprehensive service being reflected in positive customer feedback? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then internal productivity is likely to be a big part of the problem.”

He concluded: “Solving the productivity conundrum is about fostering new philosophies, which prioritise the creation of a fully unified, holistic approach to meeting the needs of the customer across sales channels. Technology has the power to be a great enabler here, with solutions such as intelligent guided selling going a long way towards empowering staff in providing a consistent, efficient service that promises customers a high level of personalisation. If backed up by a positive philosophy that is communicated throughout the organisation and embraced by all parties, retailers will at least stand a good chance of maintaining competitive advantage in these tough economic times.”