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Will Retail Survive?

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

Supply chain chaos, bestsellers unavailable in-stores, low staff morale, shabby shop-fits all paired with lack lustre leadership points to one depressing future - retail is dying.

In fact, retail has only been surviving on a knife edge for many years.

Back in the 90's, 00's and even 2010's brands were scaling fast. Speed to open up as many retail sites as possible was the goal.

Physical presence was king! Footfall was booming!

Open in Europe!

Open in The Middle East!

Open in APAC!

Did anyone look at the running costs for hundreds of sites for the mid-long-term? I doubt it. The scale of physical closures would be less so if that was truly assessed.

The moment to expand was reckless, driven by greed and the need to be the first brand with wide presence. To beat the competition. To take the bigger slice of the ginormous pie. You get the point.

But hey, I'm no retail financial expert...although...there was a time I worked at a brand that were looking at opening a standalone store in Hull (based on the recommendation of a well known retail leasing company). I immediately said to the Retail Director; don't waste your time.

Our customer was not there, we'd be lucky to turn 450k annually.

We might break even; is it worth it?

The retail leasing company presented eye-watering forecasts of 800k...I think it was literally fished out of some magical pond enchanted with hopes and dreams.

Anyway, we did not open.

It was the right decision.

We remained focused on existing sites and dug deeper into our existing retail operations and service models. Business profits remained healthy and the brand still thrives today.

Quite the opposite of what happened to other major retail brands (anyone remember Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy's, Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Office Depot, Debenhams, Jaeger, Burtons, BHS...)? There are a multitude of reasons why these brands are no longer on the high-street.

And, like everything, it all comes down to one thing: money.

When the money dries up, there is nothing left.

Businesses don't close stores because of low margins or an uninspiring collection that didn't take off...they close because they run out of money. That is it.

So, will retail survive?

That all depends on your brand strategy, backed up with concrete plans to boldly step into a new retail future and of course, a bunch of talented people to get you there.

Some core things to consider for future-proofing your physical presence:

1. Finance: How viable is your future in those big fancy malls or the vanity flagship cities?

2. Data: If you don't know who your customer is you should probably close now

3. Customer Experience: 80% of customers research their product before coming to a store; customers are smart and know what they want. HOW are your teams standing out in the sea of sameness to truly connect and retain customers?

Of course some things you activate will be loss making, and that's ok (when you plan for it). Not many brands turn a huge profit on Oxford Street, London or Upper 5th Avenue, New York.

You need to decide 'where must we be seen' ...

Let's also remember the importance of being seen online!

When was the last time you invested in that social media page? I see so many brands missing out on user generated content opportunities. This in itself can be activated inside your retail stores; build local, loyal communities. New Balance are good at doing this.

Digital and physical worlds are fluid. Being OMNI present is critical to the success of your brand. You already know this. So, how can retailers be better at OMNI to ultimately future-proof retail physical presence?

Let's get into the thick of it!

Tip #1 - Everything you think is right, is actually wrong

Retail is detail

Robust operational efficiencies

Getting the most out your teams (productivity)

These point above still matter. But LESS SO in todays digital, consumer first world.

Look, you are not going to miss a sale if a mannequin is not steamed to perfection or that a staff member has been processing some new products on the shopfloor.

You will miss sales if your team are disengaged.

You will miss sales if your team don't know their purpose or brand mission.

You will miss sales if you don't develop or empower your teams.

You will miss sales if you follow scripted service routines.

Retail is people

Robust coaching & connection moments

Getting the most out of your day (driving awesome experiences for teams and customers)

Tip #2 - Consumers take Centre Stage

When was the last time you felt truly inspired and excited about a retail store experience?

There are a handful of brands that get it right, most of the time.

Then there are hundreds of brands that get it so utterly wrong; most of the time.

Sadly, many support functions have not come from a retail background.

Yet, they are the ones who are writing training manuals or creating SOP's having no empathy or perspective around the real day-to-day of a retail store.

Your retail brand can stand out massively when you empower your people to go all in on customer experience.

This means freeing up their time on mediocre, repetitive tasks that suck the life out of them and hold little value.

For example, if your Store Managers are creating a trade report each week, taking up half a day and nothing valuable comes out of it - then please, stop it!

Stop giving retail teams endless lists of things to do.

Start encouraging retail teams to improve their soft skills to successfully connect with any person walking in.

"The thing is, I don’t want to be sold to when I walk into a store. I want to be welcomed"

— Angela Ahrendts, former SVP of Retail, Apple Inc.

Tip #3 - Make Service Personal

You personalise your website experience

You personalise your e-mail marketing campaigns

Yet, in-store we insist on scripted service, often measured by some ridiculous mystery shopper survey.

Come on. Let's do better!

This is the digital age, the Metaverse is coming and younger generations do not buy into stuffy, outdated structures. They know when they are being sold.

Now is the time to encourage your retail teams to embrace their own personal brands.

By authentically showing up as themselves, they will naturally build better connections with your customers. Lululemon do this really well.

Personal service should feel good, it should be memorable and it must always make you want to come back for more! Win more brand fans through storytelling and connecting emotionally with your consumers.

Tip #4 - Retail Teams are Changing

Sales Associates? Not relevant anymore. Change it.

Wardrobe Stylist

Community Builder

Brand Ambassador

Social Media Specialist

OMNI Executive

Product Advisor

Data Scientist

Experience Manager

If you want to attract a subpar candidate who will do very little to move the needle, go ahead. This is not doing your brand any favours.

If however, you are ambitious about realising those big brand objectives then please pay attention to the frontline. Does the future of retail include sales associates? Get ahead today.

Are those job descriptions aligned to the day-to-day?

Are the benefits good enough?

Are there clear succession plans to grow talent?

Tip #5 - Technology

Last but certainly not least. Technology should compliment the retail experience.

Too many brands throw in some ipads, accessing the endless wardrobe and expect retail teams to run with it.

Yup, the teams once armoured up on product knowledge of say 600 available they're expected to sell the entire collection. That could be 3,000+ SKU's!

Right now, many customers use tech in-store with a team member helping. Instead of tech being self-assist it is actually another time burden for store teams. Not helpful whatsoever.

When you launch a new tech product, retail teams need to know the purpose, the expectation, the training/change management plan, the roadmap. Clarity = confidence.

Technology is great fun and a solid tool to increase dwell time and of course, make more sales. I like to split tech product into 2 buckets.

1. Retail experience (nice to have and great for organic Insta content)

2. Retail essentials (the things you simply must have to enable seamless consumer choices)

When to Take Action

Look, if you got this far I think it's safe to say you already know the answer.

Seize the day and start creating a better future - for your teams, for your customers.

Or, reach out directly through LinkedIn if you like. Scan and connect below. I look forward to learning about you and helping you achieve sustainable, predictable retail success.

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