Opinion: It’s open all hours for UK stores on Sunday after all

Football’s not coming home and nor are staff in UK stores (until their usual shift finishes).

Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and the retail magnate running Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue, Theo Paphitis, were among those using their official Twitter accounts this week to announce their UK stores would close early on Sunday IF THE ENGLAND FOOTBALL TEAM MADE THE WORLD CUP FINAL. The thinking behind it was to allow staff to get back in front of their TV screens in time to support their nation against France in England’s first major final since 1966.

It was a welcome suggestion.

Sadly, for English football fans anyway, it’s all irrelevant. The semi-final against Croatia didn’t go the way they had hoped, and – for the staff in UK stores who might have got two or three bonus hours off work – there remains a job to do at the tail end of Sunday trading on 15 July.

The focus on what stores were doing in general around the World Cup made for interesting viewing. It ranged from the themed merchandising you’d expect down the food and drinks aisles of supermarkets to Marks & Spencer stumbling across its best PR story for a decade thanks to England manager Gareth Southgate’s high profile wearing of the retailer’s waistcoat, which seemed to capture the nation’s imagination.

Lots of retailers and brands were finding novel ways to tap into consumer excitement as England beat Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden on their way to what turned out to be unreachable sporting glory. Iceland switched some of its store fascias to “ENG-land”, while Ikea offered £1 fish and chips to England fans following its country of origin Sweden’s elimination from the tournament.

Dry cleaning chain Johnsons jumped on the Southgate craze, too, by offering free waistcoat cleaning all week in its Truro store as a method of connecting with customers in a relevant way.

UK stores must engage all year round

There’s an overriding message to take home from the way retail stores have latched on to the mood of the English nation over these last few weeks, and used it to sell or boost their brand reputation. They should be looking to engage with their customers in compelling ways throughout the year, and they need to be speaking the same language as their target market consistently – I think, all too quickly, retailers forget these clever marketing tactics as soon as a special event is over.

Of course, the daily job undertaken by many visual merchandisers and store operations teams around the UK helps keep their bricks and mortar retail offering ‘of the moment’ and constantly refreshed. And technology tools, such a social media monitoring software like Synthesio and customer feedback systems like Feefo, all help retailers understand their customers better, but are these insights fed back into UK stores regularly enough?

If the last few weeks of England football hysteria teaches the wider industry anything, it should be that customers will engage with a brand that speaks to their interests – so it needs to be front of mind all year round.

Some of it might not translate into immediate sales, but some of it will. KPMG-British Retail Consortium figures show sales of barbeques, beers and big-screen TVs helped drive up total retail sales by 2.3% year on year in June, although Timpson Group CEO James Timpson revealed the flipside of the football with a 25% sales downturn in his stores on the Saturday of the England-Sweden match.

Keep the feelgood factor going

Either way, retailers need to tap into the zeitgeist, whatever that is once England return from their Russian adventures following their third-place playoff against Belgium.

Even though England are out, and painfully so after a World Cup final was within just a second-half clean sheet’s reach of the team, my suggestion is for retail stores to continue their football-related decision-making right until the end of the tournament.

Starting with that time off thing. Why not give the French and Croatian shop workers in the UK a chance to go home early on Sunday afternoon, so they can watch their teams in action? I hope the retailers that were willing to close their stores if England reached the final find it within their hearts – and scheduling rotas – to keep the feelgood factor going for those nationalities, at least.

Stores have been the focus this week on Retail Connections – check out how Superdrug’s bricks and mortar is resonating with customers or take a look at this round-up of quotes on landlord-tenant relationships in modern retail.

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