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Year in Review: Loek Wermenbol & Helge Hans Hoven | First Impression

In the invidis annual commentary, Helge Hans Hoven and Loek Wermenbol from First Impression Audiovisual explain the trends and challenges retailers need to be prepared for and the role that personalization, data, and a strong brand identity play.

For First Impression, named Rising Star at the DSS in Munich, this year was all about the international expansion in Germany. With the opening of the new office in Kassel and the appointment of Daniel Glück as New Business Manager DACH and Helge Hans Hoven as Business Director DACH, this expansion already got a great boost.

Looking back on 2023

As we look back at the industry, we notice it was characterized by a broadening of business activities and a quest for new revenue models. A noteworthy trend was the rise of retail media, also expanding opportunities for smaller, specialized retailers. The upcoming marketplaces capitalized on existing customer bases to diversify their product offerings, integrating loyalty programs and cross-channel communication through methods like banners in physical stores. This trend also emphasizes the crucial role of organized data for the success of retail media and omnichannel strategies, with a focus on achieving personalization through effective segmentation.

Despite these advancements, the challenge of securing highly skilled personnel persisted, particularly in light of changing expectations from the younger generation in physical retail environments. Global uncertainties, including geopolitical tensions and economic factors, posed challenges, but the retail sector demonstrated resilience post-pandemic, experiencing a rapid economic recovery. The high-profile bankruptcies primarily affected well-known names that failed to innovate in a competitive market. The retail landscape saw internationalization, and the crisis had a positive impact by shifting the focus towards unique experiences and a sense of purpose. Customers became more discerning, presenting retailers with complex challenges aimed at creating distinctive brand experiences.

Trends for 2024

Consumer confidence is on the rise, and purchasing willingness is increasing. However, a visit to the shopping street comes with specific expectations. We are becoming more conscious of our buying behavior, the price/quality ratio, and placing greater value on sustainability and product reuse. Beyond pricing, the most crucial factor is the experience in the physical store. A seamless and surprising shopping experience in the physical store will ultimately make the difference. Retailer behavior is also changing. Retailers are increasingly aware of the role of the store for both the consumer and the brand itself. Instore communication is becoming an increasingly important part of the marketing mix.

Fresh perspective on retail media

A crucial trend in 2024 is the professionalization of retail media on the shop floor. Prioritizing upsell opportunities and optimizing the use of available space are central. The path to professionalization is complex and requires an integrated approach, as seen in examples like Jumbo and SPAR, where every element, from network and hardware to content and marketing, must seamlessly collaborate. While good hardware remains important, it’s the excellent software that makes the difference. Data-driven approaches with first-party data become essential. While this is currently limited in application, it’s clear that the market is moving in that direction. It is the key to understanding customer needs and delivering personalized experiences, requiring the integration of the right expertise.

Boosting instore communication

Retail media is all about showing content from your advertisers. But don’t forget your own content. When creating your own content for instore communication, relevance is the keyword. Approach instore communication with a fresh focus on strengthening your own brand in the long term. Instore communication and the structuring of strategies form the essential pillars. Since every business is unique, this requires a customized approach, considering specific needs and challenges. You can’t jump on a general train. Your train is entirely different from the competitor’s, and the track might be heading in a completely different direction. Therefore, focus on your own business rather than that of the competitor.

Customer-centric thinking

Customer-centric thinking, removing barriers, and becoming a ‘loved brand’ will be crucial in 2024. It revolves around better understanding the customer, not imitating the competition. Many retailers still struggle to get into the heart of the consumer. Therefore, prioritize the customer experience at the top of the priority list throughout the customer journey. Determine how to best apply and analyze available data in the physical store and how your online channels can flourish optimally. It’s crucial to identify what customers see as obstacles in the customer journey. We often focus too much on the online store, but the purchasing process in the physical store is equally important to measure. Only in this way can you achieve the status of a loved brand.

Return to the Shopping Street

A notable shift in 2024 is the return to the shopping street, where city centers play a more significant role in city marketing. Embracing diversity and creating unique experiential worlds become crucial. This leads to more interesting living areas and busier city centers with less empty buildings. However, this requires creativity and an investment in accessibility, safety, and livability. This is not solely the responsibility of retailers but is a healthy collaboration between hospitality, culture, and local government.

Continuous innovation, especially in personalization

In the field of innovation, hyper-personalization is the buzzword. Hyper-personalization takes center stage in 2024, where the concept of ‘personal’ takes on a new dimension. It involves not only collecting data but understanding the nuances and differences between online and physical interactions. It’s not just about knowing a customer’s preferences on a website but also personally recognizing them when they enter the physical store. A seamless transition between online and offline is a necessary innovation. We see this trend in the rise of marketplaces, where the entire retail industry becomes a fully interconnected ecosystem. To be successful and stand out in such an ecosystem, offering all favorite brands in one store and serving your customer optimally, a good infrastructure is indispensable. And that requires innovation once again. Innovating, in this case, is synonymous with pioneering. Daring to think innovatively takes you further. It takes courage to embrace new approaches and experiment with different methods of hyper-personalization. Today’s customer expects companies to understand and provide what they need, sometimes even before they know it themselves. A holistic approach considering various touchpoints is essential.

And what about the metaverse?

There are also things you don’t need to pay attention to this year: the metaverse. The expected widespread adoption in retail seems unlikely, as consumers overwhelmingly prefer real experiences. The metaverse does not reach the masses and ultimately revolves not around digital but reality. This is evident in the annual CMO Report, a study by Adformatie in collaboration with Serviceplan Group. As part of this study, a survey on the importance of marketing trends in 2024 according to the top marketers in the Netherlands was conducted. The metaverse and NFTs were mentioned as trends for 2024, but only 8% of respondents marked them as important.

At First Impression, we eagerly look forward to what 2024 will bring in retail. Just as in 2023, the customer and their needs are central to all upcoming retail innovations.