Let’s give retail its pride back

rs blog

Whilst technology can provide speed, convenience and even a wow factor, people are still the key to successful retailing and good sales people give shoppers a reason to visit

Looking at all the analysis and commentary relating to the ‘golden’ quarter trading figures, published in January by the UK’s major retailers, it’s clear that after a dismal November, retailers had to play a game of catch up in the closing stages of 2018. Whilst there were some positive stories such as the ‘very strong’ Christmas eve sales at John Lewis, it was less rosy for many other retailers and in 2019 it will continue to be a tricky path to success.
As we are constantly hearing, UK high street retail is taking quite a bashing but are we really surprised? How long could retail sustain so much online competition?

Everywhere you look another coffee shop or restaurant is opening to fill the empty nests left by retailers of old. We’ve seen changing retail patterns before for example during recessionary times, but this feels very different, almost like self-harm. We’re seeing a complete transition in retail in the UK. Brexit uncertainty is damaging consumer confidence and the media isn’t helping the plight of retail when all you hear is doom and gloom. The notion, right or wrong, sinks into the public psyche. Businesses are going bust, estates are shrinking, and consumers are opting to head online. It’s not a pretty picture and there needs to be a considerable amount of effort into halting the slide.

Whilst some retailers are taking an innovative approach to how they engage with their customers on the high street, many appear to need additional inspiration. I’ve read many articles lately that talk about how technology and innovation will transform the in-store shopping experience and save the high street; self-service checkouts; robot assistants; augmented and virtual reality.
However, a recent study we conducted, titled ‘Service not Sci-fi’ revealed that despite living in a world driven by technology, most people don’t want technology at the sacrifice of humans’ opinions and experience. Only 30% said they would like to see ‘smart pricing’ initiatives adopted by retailers, where prices change in real time depending on demand, 22% smart mirrors that show a 360 view of themselves, 16% a virtual reality changing room, 14% augmented reality to help visualise products in the home and 9% a talking robot assistant.

An astonishing 81% of UK shoppers claim the personal touch has disappeared from retail customer service in modern Britain, with almost a third (32%) blaming an over reliance on technology for this decline. And when asked what makes a great bricks and mortar shopping experience, 49% of those polled said it was down to having good staff on the shop floor, staff that know the products (49%) and staff that go the extra mile (47%).

Consumers want to do business with real people and have real conversations. And businesses take heed – a third of Brits say that the personal touch is more likely to make a repeat purchase, and more than a fifth (22%) claim they always spend more money in a shop if they are served by a good assistant, imagine converting that to sales? Over a third (34%) of shoppers stated that a poor experience has driven them to buy from another retailer, not great in the current climate.

So perhaps retailers have got their strategy wrong? Whilst technology can provide speed, convenience and even a wow factor, people are still the key to successful retailing and good sales people give shoppers a reason to visit. If bricks-and-mortar retailing is to thrive it needs to recognise that there is a changing role for stores. There needs to be a shift from transactional retailing to experiential. There needs to shift from till operator to sales consultant. This requires good teams on the shop floor and with all the negative commentary surrounding the high street it is difficult to attract talent but perhaps this is where retailers should focus their efforts?

Retail remains a rewarding career where those involved take pride in the service they provide. This culture should be representative of all retailers, however that’s about culture not proposition. With a change in mindset for both the retailers and their store teams, then it’s possible to bring back the pride in delivering the optimum customer journey and in doing so enhance the experience for all.

To read the full article visit Retail Sector.

For more information on Gekko’s recent ‘Service not Sci-Fi’ study please visit our Research Page.

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