Sunday, 12 February 2017

Where does retail go from here?

Retail over the last 20 years has been all about making things faster and more convenient for customers. The race to be the quickest has taken in the likes of Amazon and their drones. Tesco has brought more and more inside their stores with mixed results. Retailers compete to be open for longer, have more stores and deliver with a shorter lead time. But there are limits to all of this. When people can visit a store (online or offline) 24 hours a day and ask questions of real people, then there isn't anything extra to do.

Stores end up having to stretch their teams to breaking point in order to cover all hours that they trade. Customers gain in opening hours but lose out in availability of products and colleagues. If you turn up during the middle of the night then you might find a few people filling shelves and the odd dozing cashier but don't expect any assistance on the shop floor.

Many of my readers are independent retailers who don't have this option for their business. They have few or no staff and can't extend their opening hours without it having a knock-on effect on their personal life. So they have to differentiate their business in another way.

They provide great service.

Retail has to start coming back to service as its main positive. People may move towards price and convenience for a certain amount of what they buy but when the trade-off is poor service then it starts to push customers in the opposite direction.

The ongoing success of M&S for food, Next for clothing and the John Lewis Partnership for just about everything shows that service is the way to go. Small retailers can give customers the one on one time that they want. You can spend the quality time that can turn a single purchase into multiple sales. It can convert a one-time customer into a loyal customer who tells others about what you do. Too many major retailers (and I must say that US companies are the worst here) think that if their figures show lower costs then they are winning. I've worked with sine big retailers and what strikes me isn't the sales they make,  it the sales they miss out on. There is so much more to be had of they turned managers into people that had the time to support their team on the shop floor and provided enough staff to make it a memorable shopping experience.

If you have your own shop then speculate to accumulate. Spend quality time with your customers and delight them. Retail is heading this way so make sure that you are ahead of the curve.

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