As retail continues to go through a period of consolidation - with CVAs, mergers and acquisitions aplenty - those that survive will be forced to ask themselves how they can differentiate from the remainder of the pack.
For many, the answer is right in front of them; leveraging their brand partners to create a credible range, experience and destination for shoppers.
There is no doubt that having a wide choice of credible brands can drive footfall, particularly many categories are synonymous with brands.
Think tomato ketchup, you think Heinz.
Think mobile phone, you think Apple.
Think vacuum, you think Dyson.
Brands can therefore be a powerful tool to drive credibility in key categories.
Even own label kings like M&S accept that branded goods can help drive shopper confidence in key categories. As an example, despite having their own branded cola, M&S introduced the famous branded version to increase confidence in their wider ‘food to go’ offering. This shows that no matter how highly a shopper rates your own label for quality – which arguably M&S is already highly regarded for – brands can remain incredibly powerful to create shopper affinity to a particular retailer.
Retailers therefore have an opportunity to leverage brands within the path to purchase to set themselves apart from one another. Many retailers however fear that by leading with brands they will muddy the retail environment, and more importantly lose control of their retailer identity.
House of Fraser suffered this exact fate, with a mass of concessions and an overpowering retail brand. Why would a shopper visit a House of Fraser when you can get all these brands elsewhere? The retailer lacked identity and handed too much of the control to brands.
Shoppers need to feel they are being guided, with clear message hierarchies and brand cues, making categories ‘easier to shop’. This cannot be achieved by retailer or brand in isolation. Retailers and brands must therefore work together in order to inspire shoppers, encourage quick decision making and seal that all important purchase.
John Lewis & Partners do a great job here. There is no doubt that as you move around their store or website, you are shopping at John Lewis. The environment remains consistent, with key brand partners elevated to drive category relevance and authenticity. This is particularly evident in their beauty halls which give premium brands space to breathe, whilst leveraging the role of John Lewis as the 'curator'. Likewise, AO.com achieve this online using brand partners to drive credibility in key categories, whilst overlaying their own brand communications to reinforce their position of value and convenience.
For retailers and brands, the key is balance, talking to shoppers in the retail tone of voice to deliver the best results.
Co-op too have identified the importance of getting the balance right. At fixture, you’ll find reinforced retail led communications for shoppers, with brands highlighted in Co-op’s tone of voice. Away from fixture, at the front of store, you will find more branded communications with a hint of the retailer brand, to drive awareness of branded offering in-store. By getting the balance right, Co-op are driving both footfall into their stores, using brands as a hook, whilst converting shoppers at the point of purchase with their familiar and reassuring retail brand identity.
Retailers and brands therefore can work together to deliver mutual growth. Whether own label kings like M&S who need brands to drive credibility, or branded retailers like John Lewis & Partners who by working with brands can create experiences that complement their retail led communications.
When the balance is right; it’s a win win for brands, retailers and those all-important shoppers.