Sunday, 5 March 2017

Retailers - you just have to stand out

I have spent a lot of time in different retail environments over the last few weeks and the way that a retailer can set themselves apart is by offering something different. We seem to have developed three main areas for physical shopping in the United Kingdom and they are -
  • The High Street
  • The shopping centre or mall
  • The out of town retail park
This means that retailers that have multiple sites need to think about how they operate in all of these areas. The shopping mall is the indoor venue that can have later opening and closing times as well as a customer who tends to send the day there. Facilities to eat and drink as well as cinemas and other leisure options can keep people there for longer. People tend to walk these places in a structured way as they aim to walk past every shop before deciding whether to go in or not.

The High Street is for the shopper now that probably has one or two specific things to buy from pre-selected retailers before disappearing. The fact that the High Street is probably the only one of these three that charges for parking means that people are on a strict time limit. they only have the amount of time they have paid for on the car to spend and after that they have to either go back and top up or just leave. This means you will have to work hard to gain their attention.

The out of town is a middle ground between the two. They may or may not have shelter, usually have limited facilities to stop and have a cup of coffee or lunch and as such don't keep people there for as long as the shopping centre.

So what does this mean to me as a retailer?

It really does mean that you have to think about how to attract these customers that are in a different mode when they walk past the front of your store. Those in the shopping centre want to see something that draws the in. You need to think about what your direct competition offers and shoe your potential customers something different. You will need to focus on service and have the store front-loaded with team members.

Your customers want you to be proactive and help them make the choice. If they have already been in several other stores for the same reason then you need to fulfil their needs or run the risk of them walking away.

But thinking about the High Street retailer, the focus is one something completely different. Speed is of the essence. If you customers only have a certain amount of time before they have to leave then you holding them up is only going to push them further away from you. There has to be a focus on service, just like in the case of the shopping centre above but it has to be at the tills. People want to pay and get out. To be a successful High Street retailer you have to provide them with this.

The out of town shopping park has a very different set of pressures at play. There isn't very often a queue at the tills and the free parking that the majority of these places offer means that there is not quite the same level of rush - although nobody likes to be kept waiting unnecessarily. The issue here seems to surround opening times. many stores on these parks are open from 8am until 8pm or even longer. This can often mean that the staffing gets stretched and customers can feel abandoned. The fact that large retail companies want to cut costs all the time just brings this pressure down even harder on the staff that work there.

The solutions?

I think that for a multinational retailer to make a difference in their chosen location or locations, they must look at things from the customer point of view. We have seen a downward trend in expenditure which has impacted the service in a heavy way for many large retailers. The fact is that with little choice, it is driving customers to shop online.

By upping the service levels and giving customers an experience rather than treating them as a chore would set a retailer apart. the likes of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose both thrive because they are known for excellent service - not because they cut prices. Independent retailers have learned this lesson already and they more often than not use their service to set themselves apart from the big boys.

The future is most definitely in service over cutting prices. When people have a choice they look for someone that can help them. The major retailers need to look to the future of their business rather then just what it is costing them in the present.

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