Retail isn't dead but the sector needs some TLC
With news last week of yet another business going under it's hard to feel confident about the high street. In fact, when a family member asked which shop I wanted vouchers for for Christmas I really had to think hard as I'm scared some of them will be gone if they have poor Christmas trading. (I opted for Theatre Tokens in the end. They're going nowhere if the fact that the Les Mis tickets I booked for JUNE NEXT YEAR had to be bought as single seats is anything to go by) But why is the High Street struggling so much?
It's really easy to blame the internet but that's only part of the story. Yes, lots of us shop online and 19.9 of retail sales this year were carried out online (to July 2019 ONS) but why do we do that? The cost of parking, poor ranges in shops and the convenience and quick service offered by some of the big players are a definite factor.
Amazon offers us next day delivery and many stores offer free returns so it's not hard to see why customers would go for that. With the choice between heading into town through heavy traffic to pay a fortune for parking and being served by a surly sales assistant or pressing a button on your sofa it's not hard to see why people are shopping online. BUT this is not the whole story.
Over 80% of shopping is still done in store and for fashion especially we really do like to try it on. Do we just want things cheap? I don't think so as the luxury market is still performing well with LVMH reporting revenue of 25.1 billion euros in the first half of 2019, up 15% so it's not like people aren't spending money.
What are customers looking for then?
1. If they go to a shop they want it to be a good experience. This means different things to different people but essentially it needs to be easy to shop and have staff who are willing to help as an absolute minimum with expectations rising with prices.
2. They don't want to feel sold to. My friend was panicking the other day as he needed a new suit and was thinking he'd have to go to a well known suit shop but essentially it's laid out to discourage browsing and he didn't want the full sales pitch. He just wanted a bit of help when he was ready.
3. They want knowledgeable staff who understand their needs and take some time to ask questions IF THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT. Sometimes they know exactly what they want and just want to get in and out with the minimum of fuss. Good staff will recognise the difference.
4. They are looking for VALUE which is not the same as price and will pay more if they believe the item is worth more AND they get the right experience.
5. Many will go a bit further to buy something that fits in with their ethics, principles and values for example clothing made from recycled fabric, small local brands or places they have heard are worth a visit.
One vision of the future is that there will be less but better shops. I think they also need better staff too. It's really hard to motivate your team to develop as salespeople and experts when they are only doing the job to pay their way through uni or because they can't get anything else and that's the reality of managing a team in retail.
It's really worth making the effort to train and develop teams to increase their product knowledge, understand what customers want and how to read both buying signals and 'leave me alone' signals though if you want to remain safe in dangerous trading conditions and I can help with that. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.