Success within a changeable industry
As reports of huge retailers filing for bankruptcy or closing a multitude of stores grow increasingly regular as the weeks fly by, it’s pretty hard not to think about what the future really holds for the High Street as we know it. As an Assistant Manager of a popular Belfast Retail Store (and frequent over-spender), I for one have struggled to keep up with the changes in Belfast City Centre over the last year with so many stores moving premises, rebranding, or ceasing trade entirely.
The world has gone online, and it’s more and more obvious by the day just how much of an impact the digital age is having on our High Streets. A recent report by The Office for National Statistics published in August 2018 states how online spending has “continued to increase to reach a new record proportion of all retailing at 18.2%.” With no doubt a strain is evident, what is the secret to achieving a steady turnover in a world dominated by Amazon Prime?
Brick and Mortar
The key to maintaining success in this increasingly competitive high street market is to focus on customer perception. Why may a customer choose to head into the City Centre for a bit of shopping on a Saturday afternoon, rather than snuggling up on the sofa with their iPad and a nice cuppa, scrolling through ASOS for hours on end.
The answer? Communication. That all important customer interaction is what keeps people coming back. This is something that you will not get online, and for many tends to categorise shopping as an enjoyable pastime rather than a necessity. How many times have you found yourself engaging in conversation with a Sales Assistant (usually surrounding a completely random topic), and left the store with a smile on your face. Equally, a less enjoyable encounter may reduce the likelihood you will rush back to that store.
Carrier bag 5p, Experience Priceless
Belief in your brand is vital. Customers do not want to be sold a product, but a lifestyle. Present your belief in the item, the company, and most importantly your genuine interest in the people who are giving you a reason to switch on the lights.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you have undoubtedly heard the infamous comment that a particular item is cheaper online. Fast fashion is rapidly available, but isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For this particular group of individuals, the price point will not be the pinnacle when contemplating a purchase (although I’m pretty sure there is a good percentage of Belfast’s population who’d happily switch to the online market just to get out of having to pay 5p for a carrier bag). A friendly, positive attitude and a soft-sell, non-scripted approach is best-practice. A customer should never feel as though you are pushing an item in exchange for an additional cocktail on Saturday night. Let’s just say Disneyland would not hire me pre-morning coffee, but the secret is simple… buy the Latte, pop on that retail smile and put your best self on the floor.
I can’t, but we can
The team. The word itself says it all. There is no ‘I’ in team, and the foundations for the successful running of a Retail Store will always come down to those representing the brand. A customer doesn’t know the Managing Director, they don’t know who runs the Warehouse or who manages Payroll (and probably don’t particularly care either). All they are interested in is the product, and respectively the individual selling it to them. A company can have an incredible hierarchical back-bone, but in most cases the customer will not see beyond the Sales Assistant.
Your team members are your forefront, the lead on your reputation, and act as the focal pull to the potential customer. Training is vital, and can make or break a retailer. Build a strong, dependable, enthusiastic team that will do all necessary to avoid providing a customer with reason to grow disengaged with the service implemented in-store.
Buy now or cry later
Visual Merchandising is your best friend. Creating a visual atmosphere that draws people in will change your life (well maybe not your life but your footfall counts at least). You may be surprised by how many people prefer to see an item in person before purchasing. The opportunity to touch it, feel it, and try it on… (spoiler alert: you’ll also save yourself the bother of repackaging an unwanted item and carting it to the Post Office).
I personally find myself more likely to develop an attachment to an item that I have held in my hand, as opposed to the multitude of items on my Topshop ‘online WishList’. We have the ability to view short catwalk snippets, and even spin online images 360 degrees to view the item from all angles, but is this really the same as viewing the item in person and physically touching it? A glimpse at how the item looks partnered with your style, how it feels, does it look the same as advertised… (pretty much all of the guess-work involved in an online haul).
Sink or Swim
I am sure Brexit alongside other factors will bring more ups and downs to our Economy, our High-Street and our Retailers. This is a bridge we will cross when we come to it. The present is our priority, and we are more than capable of continuing to thrive (and even grow). Do we give in to the online market? Or do we present an experience that will make the customer want to return to the store. Online retailers are here to stay, but I believe in the importance of brick and mortar and believe that many others do too. Know your competition, monitor KPIs, set targets and aim to exceed them. Provide unmatchable customer service and respect the sales team (they are the face of your brand). Sell an experience over a product, reiterate the importance of a consistent Brand Identity and implement Consumer-led Strategy. Take every chance you have to thrive.
To remain competitive and relevant in a constantly evolving industry may be a challenge, but remind yourself that impossible is only an opinion. If your work isn’t fun, you’re not playing for the right team.
Nora Brennan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on: Instagram – @noraellenb / Twitter – @noraellenb / LinkedIn- Nora Ellen Brennan.