Interview: How traditional retailers can thrive in a digital marketplace

We hear every day that retailers are closing stores due to customers increasingly choosing to buy online. True, e-commerce is growing faster than ever. According to the European Commerce Report 2018, European e-commerce turnover increased by 12.75% to €540 billon in 2017 (https://www.haendlerbund.de/de/downloads/ecommerce-europe/european-ecommerce-report-2018.pdf). However, in contrast, a 2018 report claims 90% of worldwide retail sales are still made in physical stores (Deloitte. Global Powers of Retailing 2018. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/at/Documents/about-deloitte/global-powers-of-retailing-2018.pdf). Regardless of how you interpret the research, one certainty is that today’s retailers are frequently preoccupied by whether they are aware of and using all of the latest digital solutions to keep them competitive in a digital marketplace.

To get the inside track from a true expert in the lifestyle and retail sector, we spoke to Reiner Unkel. From decades of experience managing a variety of retail stores, to overseeing a network of 2000 stores as Global CEO of German beauty firm Douglas, his knowledge and experience is unique. Now Chairman of TIMIFY’s Advisory Board, we ask where the retail industry is heading, what are the major challenges and opportunities and how an online scheduling tool can help get shoppers back into stores.

TIMIFY: How do you view the situation of the retail sector in Europe? What are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

Reiner Unkel: There have been two key challenges in recent times. On one side, the frequency of pedestrian flow in city and shopping centres has declined significantly over the years. On the other hand, the rise of e-commerce has been relentless. Many companies have suffered as a result of failing to update their strategy to adapt to these challenges, to offer a better customer service or to implement new ideas to revive in-store footfall. 

As a consequence, the role of the floor manager and the marketing team has been re-defined. It is no longer enough to only have traditional managerial skills, but also a set of digital competences in order to understand the behaviour of today’s customers. Managers can then guide marketing teams to create campaigns targeting the right audience at the right time, wherever they are – be it via social media and paid campaigns, referrals or affiliates, to name just a few. 

Here the role of the CEO is also crucial to revaluate the focus of the business and provide the right tools for employees to meet customer needs in an efficient and satisfying way. 


TIMIFY: In the Global Retail Trends 2018 report, KPMG says that we are entering what is called an “experience economy”, where “customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiation by 2020”. Do you agree? 

Reiner Unkel: I agree 100%. Retailers have to entertain their customers and communicate effectively. Their goal is to inspire customers, to increase loyalty and satisfaction – it’s not just about selling a product any more.  The focus should be on providing an excellent customer experience during the whole customer journey, because this will affect the long term loyalty of a customer.

Today’s customers are more informed than ever before, their expectations are higher and they expect an enjoyable, time-efficient, hassle-free purchase experience and communication with brands.

Another key consideration is the change in household composition. The average number of people in a household is declining dramatically. Many people live alone and value the experience of shopping in-store, interacting with sales staff and meeting friends there. If your store can provide a welcoming, easy-going atmosphere, where the customer feels they are treated as a valuable individual and can receive expert support whenever they need it, they are far more likely to return again and again.

Delivering superb service in-store is not easy. Sales staff face many challenges, from rude customers to long working hours. It’s here where leadership is a key factor. The more motivated and better prepared an employee is, the more success they will have with customers.


TIMIFY: As you mentioned, there are many tools that can help retailers to thrive in the modern marketplace. Many are benefiting from using an online appointment scheduling solution – why is a tool like this important right now? 

Reiner Unkel:  The time a customer needs to spend when deciding whether to buy a product or service is a crucial and decisive factor. Solutions like TIMIFY can make a major difference. 

Consumers can book an appointment at any moment of the day or night with TIMIFY, whenever is convenient for them. When booking they can predefine the products and services they’re interested in, allowing a store to prepare a member of staff who knows exactly what help and advice they need, with a pre-selected range of products ready to discuss when they attend their appointment. The shopping experience becomes far more satisfying for customers and more efficient for sellers. 

Customers are happier as the advice they received is valuable and personalised, while retailers benefit by increasing the number of items sold in a single visit. We have seen this in action with many of our retail clients: the average basket size is three or four times higher when a customer books an in-store appointment online, than when someone simply shows up. 

One of the most important luxury stores in Germany has seen average basket sizes 3.5 times higher since offering customers the opportunity to book an appointment with a personal shopper via TIMIFY.


TIMIFY: Which retail market benefits more from an appointment scheduling solution?

Reiner Unkel: A solution like this is relevant for all. Many people still prefer to buy their products in-store as they seek and value the direct contact and advice this provides. Booking consultations can help with this. Meanwhile, markets dependent on providing trusted face-to-face advice services, such as insurance, finance, optics or healthcare can benefit greatly from a tool like this that brings convenience and reliability to the appointment booking process.

A solution like TIMIFY offers crucial flexibility. Retailers can plan and prepare consultations for individuals according to the booking information received, and offer an efficient and seamless shopping experience tailored to the needs of each customer. 


TIMIFY: As a SaaS company working with firms of all sizes, we see that the adoption of digital tools can often be challenging and not well received in some cases. Is this the same case for the retail sector? 

Reiner Unkel:  In my opinion it all depends on how open-minded the management of a company is. There are many management teams hunting for tools to innovate around customer service. But making the transition and getting employees to adopt new technology is challenging. The key factor here is training. Companies like TIMIFY must be able to educate people at all levels of a company on how beneficial a tool like this can be.

Senior management, including the CEO, must also be trained. Many are still reluctant to modernise. For example, TIMIFY offers a Branch Management tool, where a CEO of a multi-branch business can easily access all the detailed data needed to make better-informed decisions and understand customer behaviour. We have seen that once we demonstrate how impactful this data is and train management on how to utilise the findings, they view TIMIFY not only as a handy tool, but as a source of insight and justification for decision-making across a business. 

The simplicity in the use of a system is also fundamental – if a digital tool is difficult to use or navigate, the acceptance rate will be very low, employees will not be willing to learn how to use it and incorporate it to their everyday work. While this varies from person to person, the formula of success is always the same: the simpler the better.

TIMIFY strives to be seen as a win-win-solution. The goal of technology is to make businesses more productive, more efficient and more successful, and this is what TIMIFY aims to achieve.


TIMIFY: Do you have any other advice for retailers?

Reiner Unkel: Companies need to adapt to the new reality or they will inevitably lose market share. Companies that know how their customers behave and have a holistic, consistent online and offline strategy, will develop competitive advantage.

As I said before, customer time is also a critical factor. People work long hours and have little free time each week to shop. Make your customers’ shopping experience efficient, innovative and service-orientated. Find the tools that make this possible. Use a tool like TIMIFY.

Offer your customers the ability to book an appointment online, ask in advance all the questions you need to provide a better service.  Ask about their favourite brands, favourite colours, favourite styles. Use this information for cross- and up-selling other products.

Lastly, I’d urge companies to be bold in trying new solutions – test and see what works best for you and your business. Try TIMIFY!


To find out more about TIMIFY as your scheduling software solution for retailer speak to our expert support team via our website:

Author: TIMIFY

TIMIFY is an online scheduling and resource management software for medium and large businesses. The cloud based software as a service (SaaS) is comprised of an intelligent yet easy to use booking system, with a wide range of customisable features.

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