Retail Marketing

Embracing the age of agile retail marketing

February 2021 12 min read Written by Daniel Bardell

In this article, you'll learn...

Real-world examples of how the retail marketing world has changed and exactly what you can do about it, including:

  • The current state of retail marketing 
  • How to embrace agile retail
  • How to go to market quicker

The events that occurred in 2020 catapulted retailers into a number of unprecedented situations, ones that have forced them to reconsider several elements of their business, fulfilment and marketing strategies. 

Now that 2021 is well underway, we have assessed the long-term impact that these events have had and will continue to have long into the future. 

How has the pandemic shaped retail?

Retailers, amongst many other industries, have seen monumental changes take place both month-to-month and day by day. Whereas sectors such as hospitality have been forced to close, consumers' attitudes towards them remain relatively unchanged – they are simply limited in how they can interact with restaurants, bars and hotels.

Retail shopping, however, remains essential in many cases. Retailers have not only had to deal with the closures, but also different attitudes that vary from age group to age group and sub-industry to sub-industry. Other forms of shopping such as DIY and crafts – while not life-altering – have in some ways been critical for keeping people busy and mentally positive.

The challenges facing retail are shifting in real-time, and agility is key in being able to deliver. The need to be agile is no longer just a smart move, it’s a business-critical move. Those who didn’t take the right steps, and fast, have likely already lost out on market share. 

Although large online-only retailers such as Amazon have been positively affected by the pandemic (financially), they have still had to assess the way they deliver their operations day-to-day in order to cope with increased demand. 

Those who have felt the effects the most have been those with an imbalanced ratio of physical stores to their online presence. Clothing retailer Primark, for example, currently has no plans to go online, as it would leave their already thin profit margins even lower. For some businesses such as these, full digitisation isn’t possible. 

But Primark is ensuring that it keeps future shoppers engaged on social media, teasing them with product launches and creating a buzz around particular items through influencers. They may be closed on the high street, but they’re very much active on social media – creating demand and continuing to build relationships so that when doors are safe to open once more, they can make up for lost time. 

Conversely, struggling retailer Debenhams has been bought out by online clothing giant Boohoo, but rather remarkably, they don’t plan on keeping any stores open. This essentially means that the £55m purchase value was placed on the brands and website alone, with no bricks and mortar included. While we will see this iconic department store turn into a fully online operation, it’s very unlikely that the department store format in general will become obsolete – particularly as it’s one of the more interactive shopping experiences. 


Will things ever go back to normal?

Mass vaccination should help speed up the physical store recovery, but never to the (already declining) rate it was at. 

That said, despite some stores having to take drastic action to adapt and have a chance at competing, others who continue to improve the physical customer experience, and combine it seamlessly with digital, will continue to have a place in the real world. Online deliveries may tick the convenience box, but nothing can take away the satisfaction of hand-making your selections, trying on clothes and enhanced in-store experiences.

Shopping is a social habit. With the freedom of physical browsing highly restricted, when the situation starts to ease, consumers will soon want to return to the high streets when it is safe to do so.

Likewise, another shift we expect to see is that consumers will have more confidence in buying apparel for going out and vacations away. This is one niche retail area that greatly suffered during the pandemic. Not being able to try on these items physically sees online retailers bombarded with returns, and sometimes consumers can get tired of ill-fitting clothing and the effort it takes to make a return.

Stores such as ASOS have tried to combat this by using the buyer’s shopping and return habits to build up a size profile, and subsequently generate a recommended size for each item.


Why agile retail marketing is needed

The polarisation of demand, beyond that of what’s expected during typical seasonality, means there’s a greater need for agility in all processes, including the delivery of marketing materials. Teams have become accustomed to unpredictability, but many are still missing 3 key abilities:

#1 To adapt marketing in real-time in response to changing circumstances

#2 Bring in-store and online collateral in-house to go to market quicker

#3 Integrate PIM and ERP updates with marketing software 

BAM by Papirfly™ is putting all the power into the hands of retailers and retail marketers. Allowing internal employees to quickly and easily create whatever digital or print collateral they need, within a centralised portal. No upskilling necessary, and it can be done from anywhere in the world. 

All sizes can be pre-defined to make any asset configurable for any physical store. Likewise, videos, social media posts and more can all utilise real-time product data, such as prices, availability and more – meaning consumers are never left misinformed or disappointed. 

With so much uncertainty, preparation is key, but also difficult. BAM by Papirfly™ makes preparation possible. If a campaign strategy has to change at the drop of a hat, all materials can be updated without a fuss.  

While many retail brands have shied away from innovation, those who invest in solutions such as BAM will not only get to market quicker – their quick creation capabilities will allow them to get ahead of competitors lagging behind.

The consumer mindset shift

The need to be agile is ultimately dictated by the way that consumers behaved and continue to behave during the pandemic. Here we’ve outlined some key mindset shifts that are affecting retailers and retail marketers alike… 


Time is the new currency for consumers. Whether it’s delivery waiting times, customer service response times or how quickly they can find what they want, the bar has been set incredibly high for the digital world. When consumers get back to the physical store environment, the pressure is on to bring this level of promptness.

Physical stores may need to explore a more automated checkout experience, digital notifications that share offers, recommendations the consumer may like and consider how store layout could be simplified. 

How consumers feel about making purchases on social media

Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest catalogues are making it easier than ever for consumers to buy directly through social media. With the average person spending 144 minutes a day on social media platforms, it’s a good place to get their undivided attention. While confidence in social buying is still in its infancy, it’s likely to increase amongst bigger brands. 

How consumers feel about in-store pickup

It’s in the best interest of retailers for consumers to pick up their orders in-store, or to make the purchase there in the first place. This allows upselling and additional purchases to take place.

But the reality is, while in-store pickup experiences can be enhanced and incentivised, as long as retailers continue to offer delivery, for many it will remain the more desirable option.

What you can use the delivery experience to do is to promote in-store events, provide coupons that can only be used in-store, or promote in-store exclusive collections.

How consumers feel about physical and digital shopping experiences

When the online purchase journey is so seamless, what will motivate an individual to step foot in a store? Being made to feel special, enhanced surroundings and bringing digital into the physical world. 

Whether it’s introducing a coffee store, taking visual merchandising to the next level, or upgrading to digital signage that can interact with consumers’ technology, there are endless ways to engage the consumer – budget will of course dictate the lengths you go to.

How retailers can respond to changing demands

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. While Papirfly has always seen in-house production as a need, understandably, last year saw many retailers go into ‘austerity mode’, which left them not investing in innovation. All eyes have been on crossing the finish line, with little focus on a longer-term model and marathon ahead. 

However, this year retailers are starting to accept that the moves they make won’t bring back old buying habits, but that they will have to continue to be reactive as they are led by the developing situation. Of course, being agile is key, but retailers and retail marketers need a more sustainable way to stay reactive, consistently.  

BAM by Papirfly™ is a centralised tool that gives users the ability to create digital and print materials in a matter of minutes. Professionally crafted videos, social assets, emails and so much more. 

But more than this, it helps retailers bring digital and in-store experiences together. Online campaigns can be quickly adapted for in-store signage, either sent to print to the exact specifications needed or updated onto digital signage. Our seamless PIM and ERP integration means that everything that’s produced always contains accurate information. 

So whether you’re sending some love through your direct mail delivery, creating regional/country-specific in-store collateral, or putting together a standout social campaign, there really is only one tool for the job. Not only can you create – you can store and share, provide brand education materials and centrally manage campaigns from one place, wherever you are in the world.

Agile retail marketing: frequently asked questions 

Retail is an ever-changing environment, one where those who adapt and evolve with the times thrive while others fall by the wayside.

With 3,140 stores closed in the UK through two-thirds of 2020, one could make the argument that how retailers adapt is by taking the vast majority of their business online.

While trends certainly suggest that consumers are shopping online far more frequently, with Forrester predicting that a third of non-grocery retail sales will be made online by 2022, those who are truly succeeding in the retail sphere are those blurring the lines between their digital and in-store experiences.

This is easier said than done. But at the heart of this must be the adoption of a customer-centric approach.

Especially among Generation Z shoppers in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, there is an expectation that they will receive a more personalised, reactive and innovative shopping experience than what we would’ve expected even just a decade ago.

And that is the prelude to a new age of agile retail marketing, helping retailers worldwide move quickly, empower employees and gain a competitive edge in this rapid environment.

What is agile retail – and why does it matter?

The term ‘agile retail’ refers to a direct-to-consumer model of retailing. It is centred on recognising what customers are interested in based on multiple data sources, and immediately shifting approaches to effectively engage them.

Inspired by the principles of tech companies from the late 90s onwards who sought to introduce more flexible team structures and improve their responsiveness to change, the agile transformation in retail harnesses big data to predict trends and quickly turnaround products, campaigns and initiatives that meet their customers’ demands.

This is truly a customer-centric approach in every sense of the term. It is using insights amassed from your audience to directly influence what and how you market to them – in a highly competitive industry, this can be a big difference-maker.

When we refer to agile retail, don’t think of it as a tangible process, but more an approach. An ideology even. Because for a retailer to truly be agile, it requires a complete shift away from traditional retailer hierarchies to a more reactive, collaborative approach.

Because at the heart of agile retail’s success is handing the reins for certain areas of your organisation to team members and letting them run with it. Handing this kind of autonomy over can be an alarming proposition to those who are fully integrated into the traditional approaches to retail marketing.

However, it is essential to achieving true retail agility. If teams are left waiting for briefs, approvals and other longstanding internal functions, you lose the core aspect of being agile – speed to market. In the time it has taken for your new concept for an in-store experiential campaign to pass through all the hurdles, new data has come in that suggests a different approach would be more effective.

As you know all too well: retail is an ever-changing environment. Trends and customer expectations can shift day-by-day, hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute – staying on top of these developments and adapting accordingly are critical to gaining an advantage over your competitors.

In that regard, agile retail seeks to reconcile two seemingly opposing forces – a dynamic, proactive approach of marketing to customers, with a central, shared stability.

Adopting an agile methodology in retail will rapidly become the standard for success, in the same way that stores like H&M and Zara championed the ‘fast fashion’ revolution. More and more businesses are turning to agile approaches to enhance their ability to respond to consumer needs, and those unwilling to make the shift risk going the way of the dinosaurs.

To summarise, here are some of the core components of effective agile retail:

  • A customer-centric approach, with all decisions driven by data collected from customer trends and behaviours
  • Distinct teams/individuals in your organisation responsible for key aspects of your in-store and online retail experience
  • Autonomy among teams to quickly react to data findings and make relevant adjustments, all following a set of company-wide guidelines and parameters
  • A commitment to a test-and-learn methodology, with an organisational directive to adapt and trial ideas in search of the best results
  • Collaboration and partnerships across business and technology experts

What are the benefits of agile retail marketing?

Personalised experiences

By placing a critical emphasis on the customer experience and listening intently to their needs and behaviours, agile retail helps respond to their demands and offer a more personal, engaging shopping experience. With 84% of shoppers interested in receiving personalised offers, agile retail solutions go a long way to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business by directly responding to their interests.

Streamlined processes

It’s estimated that companies who find the right balance with agile retail can reduce costs 25% to 35%, improve quality by 20%, and accelerate their delivery up to 200%. Overall, that accounts for a lot of money and time savings across the board. By reducing the reliance on coordinating and reviewing concepts before they’re implemented (while sticking to a central set of company guidelines), retailers can quickly adapt to customer desires and concerns without old-fashioned internal barriers.

Employee empowerment

Giving this autonomy and accountability to team members over key elements of your retail experience can be a hurdle for more traditionally-minded retailers to overcome. But, with the right expertise in place, the empowerment offered by agile retail can inspire and motivate your workforce to seek innovative, creative solutions in response to issues your customer data reveals. It encourages people to be doers and all-around contributors, with everyone unified over providing the best possible customer experience.

Retail format management

Most retailers rightly recognise the effort and investment behind retail store design is markedly high, and many brands typically only refresh their retail store environment once every 3-5 years. With agile retail and team members dedicated to specific parts of your overall retail experience, both physical and digital, this helps you pinpoint particular areas that need refreshing based on customer demands and prioritise those over a complete overhaul every couple of years. Remember – those that stand still too long risk being left behind. 

How do you take the first steps to become an agile retailer?

As alluded to earlier in the article, committing to an agile transformation in retail goes beyond speeding up processes slightly – it requires a complete change in your company’s internal operations. It takes the right expertise, technology and environment to truly take shape, and moving towards this approach can be incredibly intimidating for current retailers, particularly those deeply ingrained in the traditional hierarchies.

In order to ease your transition into the new age of agile retail marketing, here are a few initial steps you can take to start seeing its advantages in action:

Start with a single category

In order to trial and understand the benefits offered by agile retail, test this methodology on a single aspect of your overall retail experience. It could be your checkout process or your in-store advertising – the choice is yours as, in theory, agile retail should eventually be touching every element of your business moving forward.

Communicate commitment from the top

All business leaders in your organisation need to demonstrate and communicate their buy-in to this new way of working, and have a plan in place on how this will be approached. Passing this down across your workforce will ensure everyone has ownership of your commitment to retail agility.

Establish clear brand guidelines

As your team members will be expected to work autonomously on their dedicated areas of your retail business, you should spend time ensuring you have a defined set of brand guidelines and principles for them to follow, and that these are clearly communicated to your employees and are always in easy reach for a refresher.

Incorporate intelligent automation 

Access to intelligent software that can automatically track and report customer trends and behaviours is essential for agile retail to work. Investigate the available options out there that can support your ambitions and help you stay on the pulse of your audience at all times. Plus, software that can track activity based on time, weather and other factors will also help you better understand customer behaviour.

Use A/B testing principles

Before committing to overall agile retail methodology, introduce elements of rapid prototyping and A/B testing into other processes, such as your mobile experience or in-store displays. Employing these techniques will demonstrate their advantages and make them appear less foreign when you shift into a complete agile retail approach.

How Papirfly benefits your retail agility aspirations

We hope this insight into agile retail marketing has helped you understand why it is the way forward for organisations looking to gain a competitive edge and thrive in a challenging industry. It will take great effort to overhaul existing processes that retailers have held static for decades. But for those that do, the rewards of a complete customer-centric approach can be substantial.

So how can Papirfly support your evolution into agile retail? By enabling your employees worldwide to take responsibility for your retail marketing processes. Your teams are empowered to create content across all your channels through intelligent templates and company-set parameters, ensuring all work produced is always on-brand. This allows them to create collateral in response to customer trends, jumping on golden opportunities.

Plus, it provides a central space for your team members across the globe to educate themselves on your brand guidelines and principles, so they all recognise and understand your organisation’s values, style and identity.

by Daniel Bardell
Linked In profile Linked In

BAM by Papirfly™ is constantly evolving

make sure you keep up – subscribe to our updates
Latest articles