Sustainable success in retail – is comfort the key?

The rise of online retail

Retailers large and small face challenging times. Not only are consumers increasingly determined to shop around and drive a hard bargain, the rise of the online sellers is capturing market share, alongside rising rent prices and wages forcing overheads upwards.

With the British Retail Consortium setting an industry target of a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, retailers must also find ways to cut their environmental impact – or risk losing the business of increasingly green-minded consumers.

As e-commerce continues to grow and online retailers enable consumers to shop where and when they choose, high-street stores find themselves facing the surely impossible task of competing with the comfort of people’s own homes. Recent research found that during the first half of last year the rate of high-street closures hit a five-year high, as on average 14 stores were shut each day . . .

In such a competitive climate, how can retailers unlock extra value and secure a sustainable future for their business?

Perhaps more than ever, retailers must find new and innovative ways of enhancing the shopping experience for their customers while also making cost and carbon savings. Now high streets are competing with the option of shopping at home from the sofa, is a focus on customer comfort and enriching the in-store environment the key to longevity and profitability in retail?

Comfort and energy comes hand in hand

Many leading retailers have already realised the energy efficiency benefits of installing Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS), which remotely monitor and optimise lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Now is the time to take one step further and recognise that customer comfort and energy savings can and should come hand in hand.

Imagine intelligent lighting solutions that use efficient LED lights, whose individual brightness can be remotely changed, to create a clean, bright shopping environment, whilst also reducing operational and maintenance costs.

Or ‘free cooling’ which rather than using traditional energy-guzzling air conditioning systems, pumps in natural air from outside to modify indoor air temperatures, refreshing and enhancing the air quality for shoppers. Escalators that can sense when people are not using them and slow down accordingly, making further smart energy savings.

Retailers need not imagine any longer; a range of energy saving solutions with customer comfort at their core already exist.

Rather than being expensive and technically complex solutions, for stores which already have basic BEMS in place, the possibilities are varied and affordable, and for those retailers that don’t, yearly building energy savings up to 35% make the return on investment period very favourable. That is before even considering the competitive edge and boost in footfall and sales that creating a refreshing, healthy shopping environment can bring.

Making these changes will require retailers to re-imagine the way they think about their energy usage and customer experience; from optimising automatic doors so that they really do only open when someone wants to go inside, to ensuring assets as simple as lifts, vending machines and children’s rides are only using power when needed, a more holistic approach to building energy management will unlock further cost and carbon savings and create a retail environment better tailored to meet changing consumer needs.

Securing a sustainable future in retail may depend on retailers embracing new opportunities to cut energy costs and make carbon savings, whilst enhancing the appeal of their store environments, creating spaces where consumers will want and choose to shop over the comfort of their own homes for years to come…

Written by Adam Parsons

Adam Parsons is part of E.ON’s Strategic Business Management Graduate Programme and has a degree in Physical Geography from the University of Durham.