Opinion

Gloom to improve


By Karl McKeever | 09.02.19

What is retail’s 2019 resolution?

Confidence breeds success. This is not another motivational new year cliché; this is fact.

2018 ended with ‘consumer confidence at five-year low’. The results of GfK’s long-running monthly Consumer Confidence Index signed-off a year, that provided few moments of comfort and joy for retail, on another grey note. This was good news for some. The media naturally gravitates towards bad news. Industry pundits are often keen to jump on the gloomy, self-defeating bandwagon. Not us.

Shoppers remain understandably cautious, what with current and post-Brexit economic uncertainty clearly weighing heavy. Setting economic factors aside, there is also the lesser-told story of low consumer confidence in retailers themselves. One reason is the absence of ‘price confidence’ among shoppers. Retailers have spent years conditioning us to seek out and shop with those who offer discounts and can’t-miss ‘bargains’. The always-on nature of promotional discounting has instilled in shoppers’ minds the idea that holding out on planned purchases pays off, with desirable products almost guaranteed to have their prices slashed, if you wait long enough – there’s always a deal around the corner. Retail’s equivalent of fake news has bred delayed gratification and lower levels of brand trust among shoppers. Heavy discounting is great for boosting sales in the short-term, but it continues to hurt retailers too and is, arguably, one bad habit more should try to kick in 2019.

Focus on the negative, however, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Positive thought (and action) is the only way to avoid losing focus or faith in 2019. So let’s do more of that. Starting right here and now.

It’s no cost, all benefit and the positive effect lasts longer

The results from Super Thursday last month may have been a mix bag, but contrary to the ‘retail is dying’ narrative that the media continues to obsess over, Christmas 2018 was not all bad. There were many examples of good performance sector-wide from the likes of Tesco, Aldi, John Lewis & Partners, Ted Baker, Dunelm, Joules and Dobbies. Wherever you look, there are retail brands doing great things. So what are they doing that others can learn from?

There is real evidence that shoppers are turning away from extreme discounting in favour of retailers who deliver a more positive, shopping experience. Poor customer service and in-store experiences are damaging consumer confidence in brands. Fail to grasp and deal with this, and is it any wonder that customers will choose to shop elsewhere? Instead of offering money-off, delivering greater value overall in terms of how you serve customers’ needs is the formula for success that struggling retailers must adopt. That means investing focus, time and energy on creating the perfect customer journey. For me, delivering outstanding service and standards tips ‘experiential’. It’s no cost, all benefit and the positive effect lasts longer. It’s confidence building, life affirming.

Now is the time to reignite shopper confidence in your brand

Surviving the January ‘hangover’ can be the toughest of months, both for shoppers and retailers alike. Aside from the complete loss of Christmas cheer, the start of the year can result in all manner of un-pleasantries when it comes to finances. For countless retailers, there will likely be tight controls of capital expenditure in the coming months. As we start 2019, retailers that urgently need to transform their businesses must be quick out of the blocks to ensure real changes are seen in store, if they are to see the gains in retail performance that are required to survive and thrive. But this is no time for high stakes risks. What retailers need are sure-bets and proven solutions that will positively impact on retail performance across the entire retail estate, not just a small handful of stores.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways they can do more to make their investment stretch further. High impact, focused and scalable solutions that have been proven to deliver an immediate upturn in fortunes, time and again. From delivering an inspirational browsing experience to logical, expertly delivered product presentation, and consistent brand delivery in every store, every day. Now is the time to reignite shopper confidence in your brand and stores, by improving visual merchandising, delivering consistent retail standards, and building engaged, motivated and highly competent store teams. In many ways, these are the forgotten basics of good retail and they are as relevant to today’s shoppers as they’ve ever been. The correlation between well-managed, well-presented stores and sales cannot be ignored. Those that get it right will win out over weak demand and cautious shoppers, every time.

So, if you only make one new year’s resolution, make it about instilling confidence – in your brand, your stores and your people – to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Do that and I’m confident that even those retailers who have endured recent struggles can look forward with hope to a year of opportunity.

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