Top service keeps retailers alive
11 September, 2015
Following an enjoyable shopping experience last weekend, I feel compelled to write about the long-heralded death of retail. I don't believe retail is dead; it is just being re-defined, with client service key to its survival.
For many years now, traditional retail has been fighting a David and Goliath war with online shopping or e-commerce. There is no doubt traditional bricks and mortar retailers have been losing market share to online retailers who offer convenience, choice and price competitiveness.
Our shopping habits have changed and consumers seemingly value things like being able to purchase goods at 2am, from the couch, wearing pyjamas. We also like the ability to return goods at no cost and we want to review all competing products in a category before purchasing.
We place less value on 'old-fashioned' aspects of retail, such as a nice store layout, helpful sales assistants and location close to home or workplace.
That we feel different about retail these days is evident in the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands survey which last year showed only five of the top 100 most valuable brands in the world are 'traditional' retailers — and their rankings are falling.
Retailers are fighting back, but it is hard work and requires a certain mindset.
Some retailers compete using the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach. They open for extended hours — not quite 2am, but long enough to suit those customers wanting to shop when they most feel like it. They offer free, no-questions-asked returns just like online retailers and they let people browse and compare without feeling compelled to buy.
Some stores actually encourage 'showrooming' where customers look around a store, try out the product and then make their purchase online.
Some have real-time customer reviews of products available in kiosks or on mobile apps, so customers can see what others think while they are showrooming. Apparently this is important — 88 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Other retailers are firing the slingshot at the online Goliath by perfecting client service. They offer customers a unique experience they can't get online.
Which brings me to my lovely shopping experience. My husband and I visited an independent menswear store in Napier we have been to before and remembered fondly. We came away with multiple shirts and several pairs of trousers, when one of each would have sufficed.
We were not the only ones to be swayed by the great service offered. The owner told us two-thirds of his sales came from customers living outside the region, who made a beeline for his store precisely to take advantage of his unique service.
It's the little things that make the difference, like the romantic description about the Italian village where the fabric is sourced, the advice about a cut of trouser that won't bag at the knees after a couple of wears or assistance in finding a pair of popular jeans that didn't look like jodhpurs on my husband.
Exceptional client service needn't just be about a great sales assistant. It is about finding the X-factor that makes customers want to come back.
British supermarket operator Waitrose also uses exceptional client service. Their myWaitrose loyalty cardholders can choose 10 products they can save 20 per cent on every time they buy them. They have a choice of 1000 products including staple items and 'special' treats — and they get a free tea or coffee each time they shop.
It used to be a strong brand was sufficient to enable a retailer to differentiate themselves and thrive. Nowadays, brand doesn't cut it — but outstanding client service will always win out.