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Is retail on the cusp of a new era?

By - 12 October 2020

Lee Drabwell, Regional Director for the UK, Ireland and Belgium at Playtech Sports, expresses his belief that retail will come out of the global pandemic leaner and more efficient than ever.

Retail may have had its challenges in recent times, whether it be the FOBT fallout in the UK or the global lockdown – but we shouldn’t be surprised by its resilience.

Two years on, following circumstances that no-one could have predicted, our self-service betting terminals (SSBTs) now lie as a key pillar in getting retail betting back on its feet in a post COVID-environment.

As someone who’s been on the inside of the retail scene for close to 30 years, I can promise you that the industry is going to come out of this year leaner and more efficient than ever. Retail has its place on the high street with good reason – customers want it.

After all, the numbers don’t lie. Following Europe’s lockdown period, with retail’s restart timed perfectly with the return of major football, as well as Royal Ascot in the UK, we surpassed all expectations for performance with half a billion Euros staked between June and the end of July, as well as close to 50 million bets placed.

By reducing the need for over the counter transactions, our range of terminals can ensure customers have a faster, easier and safer way to transact, and as expected, the ‘new normal’ is already returning customer traffic back to previous levels.

Of course, there has clearly been a very different look and feel to the European sports programme with many sports, namely football, operating and scheduling in a very different way since the easing of lockdown.

Society has undoubtedly changed somewhat, and this applies to how customers interact in retail environments. The next few months will be an exciting opportunity and it will be very interesting to see how customer behaviour changes and how terminals help operators maximise on this.

From a terminal perspective, we’re seeing more and more customers now embracing the use of machines, and the evidence is now showing a steady trend that suggests those betting in shops are now doing so in a different manner.

We can also see this this with adjusted betting behaviour, and while football has been the most popular product on the terminals so far, the popularity of less well-known sports, such as table tennis, has shown that retail has an excellent opportunity to adapt and evolve.

The retention rate here is particularly important for these sports, and it shows that if you provide the right information and live data, especially for in-play, then there’s an appetite from customers to look beyond the more traditional markets that retail is known for. After all, it’s about entertainment – and this what our SSBTs are delivering in the ‘new normal’.

Of course, changes need to be made to adapt. Retail needs to rebase its costs and amend its operating models, but as we’ve seen with the pessimistic views of the FOBT cut, which had nowhere near the impact some expected – retail is resilient.

The growth in live betting is testament to this, and the accessibility to those types of markets, features on terminals, and the fact customers like the community element, proves that shops will be around for a long, long while.

What I’m sure will change, however, is the customer journey, which is going to be all about the omni-channel. For retail to succeed in the new environment, it’s going to be all about catering to the flexibility the customer needs to limit over the counter (OTC) transactions, as well as the ability to cash out from home.

While retail has been the poor relation of online when it comes to innovation for too long, for the first time in the industry, we can now provide customers with a genuine omni-channel journey.
I’m a firm believer in our technology enabling retail and cash-based customers to become more attuned to the idea of betting technology. By providing an omni-channel bridge, we’re able to open up the digital betting experience by aligning the latest in technology to the flexibility of visiting their favourite betting shop.

We can see this happening in real time. In retail, operators have woken up to the need to digitise what has traditionally been an analogue vertical, while digital interactions are becoming far more favoured by emerging demographics.

Key to this are products like our BetTracker app, which merges the best of retail and online, allowing customers to place a bet in‐shop, track its progress, and cash out from the comfort of their home.

By offering SSBTs and the mobile apps that go around it – we can provide the agility and flexibility needed to adapt to a retail space with reduced staff interaction – all the while boosting revenue and engagement.

This blends the speed and efficiency of handheld devices with the thrill of a live sport and cash-in-hand environment. Designed to bring the convenience of online to the retail betting experience, we’re able to allow customers to scan a ticket to the bespoke app and monitor its progress, whenever and wherever they want.

Looking to the future, we know that digitised retail transactions are all about speed and convenience. By offering faster loading times and rapid bet placement, as well as enhanced navigation, simplified odds, new prompts and the latest engaging content – we stand ready to deliver for retail in the new normal.

Retail has been around for a long time before FOBTs and COVID, and with the right technology to suit a post-COVID customer journey, I can assure you we’re looking at a new era that will be leaner and more efficient than ever before.

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