Retailers target trio of priorities to build connections with customers

A combination of bricks and mortar expansion, e-commerce improvements and greater investment in marketing are key priorities this year for UK retailers in efforts to boost sales, according to new research from American Express. Amex’s research surveyed 500 senior decision makers across UK retail and hospitality businesses of all sizes, with at least one physical store, exploring their current challenges, investment priorities, and customer attraction strategies.

The findings reveal making improvements to their online operations are front of mind; almost a third (32%) of the retailers surveyed plan to either revamp their existing e-commerce presence, or launch a new e-commerce site, in the coming 12 months.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the research reveals plans to continue investment in bricks and mortar, with almost a third (29%) of respondents planning to open a new store or venue in 2024. Looking at large retailers specifically, over half (53%) plan to open a new premises this year.

More broadly, the research points to a positive outlook for the year ahead amongst retailers, with 80% feeling confident they can successfully tackle the perennial challenge of attracting new customers and keeping existing ones.

Over a third (35%) of retailers cited business development and marketing as important investment areas to help build connections with customers. Among those prioritising this, three fifths (60%) plan to experiment with new marketing channels and over half (53%) are ramping up activity on social media to help reach new customers and tap into trends which are exciting shoppers.

Dan Edelman, General Manager, UK Merchant Services at American Express, said: “Our research reveals an optimism among UK retailers, with an appetite to invest to tackle the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining customers. This comes with a recognition that, in a competitive landscape, retailers need to utilise all the channels available to them to build connections. It’s encouraging to see that a bricks and mortar presence remains key, in tandem with driving online growth, to create those customer experiences that encourage spend and lasting loyalty.”

The AI opportunity for retailers

The research also asked respondents about their views and use of AI, technology which is widely acknowledged as having the capability to enhance the customer experience. Of those retailers that are already using some form of AI, a significant 83% reported a positive impact, with ‘improving customer experience’ ranked as one of the top three benefits witnessed.

However, the findings also reveal a potential missed opportunity for some; almost three-fifths (59%) of the small and medium-sized retailers surveyed said they were yet to adopt AI in their business at all, in stark contrast with just 6% of large retailers yet to do so. Barriers to adoption cited by respondents included cost of implementation and lack of perceived relevance to their business, with these sentiments more keenly expressed among smaller retailers.