Digital Transformation: Driving the Digital Agenda in the Consumer Sector
- Video / Webinar
Covid-19 has accelerated the shift online for the retail sector. As a new normal emerges, retail brands are evaluating their strategy for balancing online with physical stores. Add in the effect of the sustainability on the products consumers demand, and it’s clear that these are challenging times for anyone in retail. Shopping habits have changed and retailers are looking for help from a guide that understands their challenges and can think through the possibilities in a fact-based way. Enter Mark Boyd-Boland and his colleagues in L.E.K.’s consumer team in London.
My name is Mark Boyd Boland. I'm a partner in L.E.K.'s consumer team in London. I focus particularly on work for retailers and consumer brands, but in particular, helping those businesses work through their digital agenda, their digital growth agenda, sustainability considerations, and overall prioritization of the many opportunities they are facing in light of the evolving consumer landscape. We work for a combination of both large and small businesses, but particularly through 2021, I've been doing a lot of work for smaller to medium-sized businesses thinking about their growth ambition, and in particular, we've been working with a number of D2C brands, looking for external investment, be it PE firms or a strategic partner to help accelerate their growth and think more about their ambitions and driving growth through both their digital channels, and in particular, into international markets.
These businesses are quite well-positioned, but they're quite small. The key challenge they're facing is how to move from being successful in a relatively small niche to being a much larger and more sophisticated business. We're helping those businesses by looking at their opportunities and helping them assess where those opportunities are best to be prioritized. So, we're helping them think through elements around available funding, management bandwidth, and some of the complexities around digital challenges and retail logistics to support the scalable platform that they're looking to build.
One of the key things that we've been exploring with clients through 2021 has been the shift towards digital and e-commerce, and clearly, as a consequence of the shops being closed, a lot more shopping has been happening online, and that's meant that both consumers who were historically exposed to D2C activity and those that weren't have been focusing far more on what to do in that arena. As a consequence, many clients have asked us to help them think through what the future of shopping looks like and how much of that COVID uplift in e-commerce is going to endure going forward and what that means for their go-to-market strategy. In particular, we've been helping businesses think about Amazon, and I think we've been through a real learning curve over the past 12 to 18 months where investors in particular are now far more comfortable about enduring opportunities on Amazon, as opposed to seeing it as a difficult place to make real sustainable profits.
I think one of the interesting questions that people have been thinking about through the course of 2021 has been what the future of retail looks like, and in particular, what physical presence they need to be success were going forward, and a good example of that was at the back end of 2021 when Gymshark announced that they were looking to launch their first flagship store, a physical retail store on Regent Street in London, and that's clearly a very fast-growing digital-only brand when that decision was made, but obviously looking to develop the right engagement with their consumers through a physical store.
The same is true of many other retailers who are looking for smaller concessionary locations that are the touch points with consumers, as well as those that are continuing to build out their retail footprint. Most of our retail spend is still through physical stores so it does remain an important part of the market. People are starting to reassess what the future of retail looks like and where physical stores fit into that mix, and for many that will involve true omnichannel, both a strong online presence and a strategic physical retail existence.
What we are L.E.K. are doing is helping people find the right mix between digital activity and physical retail, and that includes thinking through the different options that there are for physical retail presence, be it a limited number of flagship stores to really be a strong flagship presence for the brand, or a smaller set of strategic locations that might be concessions or store within stores in order to manage the economics.
One of the key structural changes that we've seen through 2021 has been the shift to working from home, and we do expect that to endure going forward, and that has profound implications for the retail environment and for consumer brands because we've started to prioritize and think about our spending in different ways, be it high street coffee with the shift towards more consumption at stores nearer the home as opposed to near the office and right through to all of the different types of homewares, garden products, these types of things that people are continuing to invest significantly in, in order to make their home a happy and successful and prosperous place for life and work.
At L.E.K. I think what we really offer clients is a deep commitment to understanding their problems, and we do that by taking a very fact-based approach to the situation and bringing to bear our own perspectives, specific research conducted in the course of the project, and additional secondary materials. We're not a firm that leads with our own individual opinions. We really are looking for the right solution for the client at that particular point in time, and all of that research we're bringing to bear to help clients address their key questions in terms of their growth and their understanding of where consumers are spending money.
In 2021, a lot of work has been thinking about the implications of COVID and what the COVID unwind or post-COVID period will look like and therefore where businesses are best positioned. A key element of that is how consumers are thinking about the categories in which the client participates and the products that they're purchasing. Sustainability continues to be a big theme, albeit one where consumers are so far much more prepared to talk about it as a key area of concern, rather than an area that is driving fundamental changes in consumer-purchasing behavior.
From a consumer perspective, we see sustainability as a really big topic, albeit one that so far consumers are more willing to talk about as opposed to changing their behavior in response to, but we do expect to see in 2022 and beyond far more focus from both consumers and therefore brands on what sustainability means in terms of consumer goods, and that generally requires visibility of end-to-end supply chains, traceability of product, a real understanding of the carbon footprint that those consumer goods are laying down, and increased trade-offs and considerations from consumers about their willingness to pay for products that are more sustainable rather than less.
I think clients hire L.E.K. because we really are committed to their problem. We make their problems our problems, and we're very keen to turn over every stone to give them the best possible advice and plan for going forward. We're not here to provide personal views or incoming hypotheses, but we really are very forensic, detail-oriented, and fact-based in the advice that we provide.