Creating unforgettable experiences: an interview with Toolbox’s Kim Dodd

Nobody could have predicted the rollercoaster year that was 2020. We spoke to Toolbox account director Kim Dodd about how the global pandemic has impacted them, and how they hope to build back better as we try to make our way into a post-Covid, post-Brexit world.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in 2020 and how did you overcome them?

It’s sometimes said that the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity, and that was how the team here at Toolbox decided to look at challenges 2020 threw at us!

One of the main objectives for us as retail destination marketers is to drive footfall and this year we couldn’t do that, but we accepted the challenge and adapted our plans.  We made changes to the format of our events so that they still encouraged staggered footfall, helping us avoid larger crowds. 

A great example of how we adapted to adhere to Government guidelines is through our Christmas Light Switch on event at Culver Square shopping centre, Colchester. 

The annual event attracts thousands of shoppers to watch as the centre is filled with festive sparkle. And of course, we didn’t want our loyal customers to miss out this year so we hosted the ultimate festive experience – a virtual light switch on. Shared across our digital channels for all to see, we truly brought the magic of Christmas to life.

In addition, we also installed a 6m tall festive Christmas castle made by the local theatre in Colchester. The main attraction that is helping to drive footfall to the centre as it is available to view 24/7, 7 days a week!

What do you expect to be the main focus for you in 2021?

With the population now very used to staying at home and being able to get their shopping delivered straight to their door,  we are not naive, we know the impact online shopping has had on consumers during the pandemic and that it is not going away.

But the focus for us in 2021 is going to be highlighting the reasons why bricks are better than clicks!

The best way to do that is create unforgettable experiences that our customers will absolutely love! At Toolbox Marketing, we have always believed in the importance of experience marketing and now it is even more important than ever to make each and every shopping trip memorable.  Reminding shoppers of the benefits of physical shopping that they cannot get online.

We aim to encourage shoppers out from the comfort of their sofa and incentivise brick-and-mortar store visits, while maintaining good COVID protocols and reassuring visitors about health and safety.

Every problem has a solution. With COVID measures like queues outside stores, one way systems and closed changing rooms, taking away from the traditional shopping experience we plan to counteract that by providing solutions to these newly developed reasons not to visit. 

It will be more important than ever to focus on the community that surrounds the shopping destination, after all they are the people that we need to visit.  Making shoppers feel valued, excited and loved is going to be vital, giving them rewards to show that we value their loyalty will be a key part of our strategies for 2021.

Examples of how we have already implemented these activities include arc shopping centre, Bury St Edmunds, where we have a team of elves giving shoppers sweet treats and entertaining them while they are waiting in queues for their favourite stores.

How will industry change in the next 12 months?

We believe that 2021 will see a rapid development of technology platforms that can streamline the customer journey, we have already seen examples starting to appear and the technology evolution will most certainly continue throughout next year.

We predict that supermarket Scan and Go systems will evolve and cash payments will decline. Accelerated by the pandemic, this seems the logical next step.   Cash sales have been on the decline for some time now and with more people using Apple Pay for payments, COVID has only helped to speed this up.

With changing rooms being closed due to safety concerns, it will not be long before brands start introducing more VR experiences like virtual changing rooms. For example. Mac Cosmetics have already installed a virtual try-on experience at their flagship Liverpool ONE store. Allowing customers to try on an extensive range of eye and lip shades through application to photos or live videos.

We have also seen a virtual queueing system process at Nando’s during the Government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme and several retailers are starting to adopt this approach. When it comes to letting customers into their stores to reduce the need for physical queues while enforcing social distancing, this method is likely to become the norm in 2021.

We’re continuing to see a real change in 2020 in the way people shop, with shopping now a very practical ‘mission’ with a specific purpose.  We really hope to see this revert back next year and for shopping to become a hobby again.  A real day out experience rather than just functional. 

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