Retail collaboration can accelerate business planning and may be a Panacea for growth in markets around the world, according to a report examining how true retail collaboration can be achieved, published by retail marketing firm TCC following the opening of its new retail Solution Creation Centre. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

There is no doubt that, in the current retail environment where zero growth rates are the norm and consumers are increasingly shopping via mobile devices, rewarding loyal shoppers is essential. Today's best retail marketing programmes and trading partnerships must involve top-to-top alignment, joint business projects and collaborative planning.

Understanding retailer strategy, market performance and competition is therefore critical to increasing sales. "It has never been more important for retailers and their partners to have collaborative and strategically aligned relationships, based on more than just transactional business," warned Michael Ioakimides, CEO for TCC. "Through retailer partnerships and the new Solution Creation Centre we aim to tackle some of the major challenges that face retailers, from increasing market concentration to the ever more complex multi-channel landscape."

Consumer lifestyles have changed significantly and the impact on shopping behaviour is marked. "Today's shoppers expect personalisation and a tailored offering," said Ioakimides. "At the same time they expect value and yet low-price messages and promotional discounts seem to only drive promiscuous shopping behaviour, leaving retailers and suppliers questioning whether this is sustainable or drives any significant measure of shopper loyalty."

As digital technology makes multi-channel shopping an ever-increasing norm, we find many leading global grocers are looking to their partners to support them in ensuring their larger formats can remain, or return to being shopping destinations.

These structural changes to the way people shop have been consolidated by the protracted global economic difficulties. Kantar Retail, the global insight business, has reported that the macroeconomic outlook remains difficult with zero growth environments in Europe compounded by an unravelling in emerging economies including Eastern Europe and the BRICS markets.

And the ongoing shift toward online purchasing presents another threat to retailers and their ability to drive traffic into stores. The IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, which tracks online sales at over 100 retailers in the UK, recorded a 13% rise between August and September 2013, the highest growth for that time of year in its 13-year history.

A consumer study by multi-channel specialists eDigitalResearch and Portaltech Reply, meanwhile, found that customers are increasingly turning to online commerce for those categories which they previously shopped for in store. In June 2010, 73% of smartphone owners who purchased items in store were shopping on a weekly basis. Three years later, this figure has fallen to 47%, representing a major shift in shopping and browsing behaviour.

Increasing urbanisation and changing demographics are shaping shopper habits too. "Big box traditional retailing will come under more and more pressure and the growth of convenience retailing will become more important," explained WPP's CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, who officially opened TCC's Solution Creation Centre at its London offices in October 2013. "Patterns of living and consumption are changing. Relationships are changing, therefore building loyalty that goes beyond points or price promotion and building an emotional bond will become more important."

New online platforms enable manufacturers to go over the heads of retailers and deliver direct to consumers over the web. TCC therefore believes it is vital for stores to provide a point of difference which transcends price, as the current level of promotional intensity is unsustainable and a disincentive to innovate.

Innovation provides the key to market growth, TCC suggests, but retailers still need to find a platform on which to collaborate, test and trial in an innovative and risk-free way. TCC's Solution Creation Centre comprises an interactive virtual store, brainstorming space, creative area, retail displays plus an innovation suite highlighting new digital initiatives.