Home » The trouble with retail: we must adapt to move forward

The trouble with retail: we must adapt to move forward

It’s no secret that retail is going through some really difficult times. In previous posts I referred to the uninspiring product offer, the lack of VM vision, and the plague of constant discounting as a few of the reasons retail got to this point. Add to this toxic mix international unrest, economic downturn and most recently Brexit, and there aren’t enough plasters to patch up this problem …

It is true that our industry has faced challenges in the past and managed to overcome them and grow. But continuity and growth did not come from repeating same old. Revolutionary and innovative ideas were employed; adaptation became the only way to secure a future.  For those who were too slow to react, or too scared to take action the only way was out, out of business that is.

When the first department stores opened, and our high-streets were filled with chains selling the same stuff we lamented the death of the independent. Many independents did disappear en masse but some didn’t. Those who managed to survive did so by choosing product wisely; product that was relevant to their clientele and different from that stocked by the chains. They survived because they figured out that what made them different were their personalised services, and the in-store experience they were offering. Shops such as 14 oz. Berlin and Goodhood London stood out, became reference shops, and they flourished.

Goodhood shop front: image courtesy of ben

Do you remember how many people condemned online sales to sure death because “consumers wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t touch or try on”? Yes, some people did say that back in the 90s! How wrong they were. Consumers were so exposed to product, that associating image to touch was as easy as evoking memories of the hand-feel. Fit was a big issue with returns, but a few brands invested money in experts to help them with fit inconsistencies and reducing return numbers. E-tailing turned profitable. Those brands that have not adapted and did no invest in their online sales are now suffering.

Whatever the price point, all brands have one thing in common; they are trying to sell goods to a customer who is quickly changing. The new consumer is informed, savvy and consciously decides how and why they will spend their money. Old marketing tricks do not work anymore. Let’s face it; a pouty tall blond model does not have the same effect now.

Whatever the problems, there are changes than can be made to turn this ship around. It is so obvious what needs to be done, and it baffles me why not everyone is on it. Below I discuss 5 possible steps.

Step one: Seamless purchasing

Brands should invest right now into creating an omnichannel retail experience for their consumers. Shock horror; it is the same person that buys online, on their mobiles, and in shops. Why do brands treat them like different entities? One should be able to go into the shop and see exactly the same POS they see online. If their size is not available in store, then ‘online’ should be utilized immediately, and vice versa. You have a customer who made the effort to visit your store, don’t let them down. And while I am at it, allow me to complain about how online and in-store departments are completely disconnected. Running them as two different businesses (stock bought, kept, and handled separately) is puzzling. The lack of communication between departments is dangerous.

Step two: Brick and mortar

Brick and mortar will not cease to exist, but the way they are used will have to change. Brands need a physical space to tell a story, convey a message. The operative word here being the word “message”. Shops should become showrooms for the brands, where their clear message and USP will be on display. Decluttering those shops from product that was bought simply to fill up square feet should be the aim. How do you think a consumer reacts to a wall of 35 different types of a white cotton t-shirts? Turn these shops into spaces where people can congregate to have an experience. Experiences create memories, and memories create emotions. Manage to link those emotions to your brand and you have a winner. Emotional connection is more valuable than the value of sales per sqm.

Photo courtesy of Jay Mantri

Step three: Product

We should stop looking at what everyone else is doing. Let’s ask the question: who are our customers and what do they want? It is ok to admit that your customers don’t care about trends and that they don’t care about quality (sad face). Right now customer is king. These are democratic times of trends created and spread from the bottom up. If they want it, they will buy it. They are doing us a favour by buying our product; it is not the other way around.

A brand should never be a supermarket; a-little-bit-of-this-and-a-little-bit-of-that attitude should be avoided. Product needs to be coordinated well aiming for multiple-sales. Believe it or not people still like to shop in ‘outfits’, or at least they like to see how a fancy top can be combined.

Admittedly trans-seasonal collections are the most difficult to design. How do you tempt people to spend money on new product after 70% off sales? Consumers will definitely not be tempted by another Bretton t-shirt, or a basic black jumper? Put some effort in it, design, challenge, make noise.

Step four: Deliveries

I want you to take a deep breath…The critical path needs to change. The latter is completely disconnected from real life needs. We cannot continue having winter deliveries in July and summer deliveries in December. It is simply wrong! How many of us are ready to buy a wool coat when the only thing we really want to do is take our clothes off and eat endless gelatos?

A conventional product development cycle means that some designs are in development for approximately a year. Ask yourself this question: what will you really want to wear in a year’s time? Is it 80s baggy trousers? A lurex maxi dress? God knows! Taking too long to develop product in the current climate of constant trend exhilaration is risky. There is way too much unsold product out there. Time to tackle the wastage.

What we need is small deliveries, preferably every two weeks. It renews the shop floor and keeps the customer interested. This means the way product is designed and produced needs to change. You can adhere to the conventional product development critical path for basics and classics (i.e. denim trousers, chinos, cotton t-shirts, basic jersey dresses). Introduce this basic product with something more exciting, always allowing a percentage of the collection to be designed and produced last minute. This way you have your finger on the pulse of what is truly in. Last minute development will probably mean that production will have to move closer to home. Yes, it will be more expensive, but more desirable product means a higher full price sell-through. And the latter equals fewer in-season sales, bigger margins.

 Step 5: Be present and relevant

People can survive without buying our product, we are not selling medicine. Thus what you are selling must talk to them directly. Make them covet it. Think about your brand’s complete image. Imagery, in-store music, social media presence, and being associated with important things such as sustainability concerns and social responsibility projects create a complete brand image. They create a lifestyle that people will want to be part of. Consumers do not only want to receive information regarding special deals, or new deliveries. They want to know what the brand is up to. Are there any new projects, collaborations, ideas? Can they be involved in the creation of these ideas?

Do you agree with the above? Get in touch and let me know. Let’s roll up sleeves and get to work then.



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