Good, bad and the ugly….

Three notable activities have come to my attention this week, Black Friday, Snapdeal and Get. A week is stretching the time scale, but call it bloggers license.

Black Friday…..a bizzare American import , initiated in the UK by Asda Walmart, two years ago. It’s a bit like Japanese knotweed, seemed like a good idea at the time, but now you can’t get rid of it. ASDA have pulled back a bit, and this year it appears that the bulk of sales have retreated to the Internet. Amazon claims it has had just had its biggest day ever in the UK. Yet high street retailers, state it was quieter than last year. In the USA it is the day after thanksgiving. Historically, we had the equivalent with Boxing Day sales, now we have two days within the same season, sucking more margin and revenue out of the prime consumer season .

Snapdeal…catchy name, but what is it? Not immediately obvious, but it is the Indian version of Amazon and Alibaba. Currently , trading mainly in India, but have announced their intentions  and aims , to pursue the other two. Consequently, it won’t be long before we start seeing it in Europe. Now competition is no bad thing, as it will keep the others on their toes. But the flip side of this, is that it will make the market even more aggressive. Now there is a third flip side, three side coin being an interesting concept on its own , and that is there, maybe something the Indians want to buy from you.

Get…to the point, but what is the point. A French company has launched an app(Get) enabling independent retailers to create a mobile presence at little or no cost. They make their money from taking a small percentage on everything you sell via the app. Currently, I think it is only available in France but if it were to cross the channel, I could see it as a great opportunity for party retailers to access a market, that would be hitherto,be too expensive and complex for them to enter via any current alternative method.

Now it’s up to you how you view or categorise these three , but what is for certain, is that they all, in different ways, will effect all of us in our market place.

Bath Time….

In a week of the horrendous events of Paris, I find it rather difficult to post about the menial trials and tribulations of our market place.

So I have decided to go completely left field and talk about the bath vs shower debate. Now before you pick up your edition of the financial times, or decide that the leaflet for double glazing that has dropped through your letter box has got to be more interesting, hang fire, be patient , give this a chance …

A recent article prompted this train of thought and it was from the ‘pro bath’ lobby. Julia and I have always been bathers despite numerous friends, in recent years,ripping out perfectly good baths and building wet rooms , leaving their houses ‘bath less’. Now, we have been around a bit and experienced most forms of showers, including upside buckets in the bush, ‘rain forest’ showers in high end hotels, power showers at friends, bowls of upturned cold water in the mountains, but none beats our bath. 

But it is not just our personal preferences,  look at the evidence. Showers are supposed to be more eco friendly, in so far as they use less water and power. Not so with power showers, especially if you share your bath water ( yeah, okay we do, but will come back to that). They are supposed to be healthier and cleaner. Not so, especially in hotels where you get wrapped in bacteria ridden, fungus engulfed smelly plastic shower curtains. Do elite athletes have cold showers? No they have ice baths. Is one of the corner stones of Japanese culture , a shower , no it is the Onsen, a hot bath. Are there Turkish showers? no of course not. What did the Romans invent? Did they go for the easy option , no they invented modern plumbing and the bath. There are not any cultures , that I can think of that revolve around the shower. Do you have a spa shower? No you immerse yourself in the healing waters in a spa bath . And the final piece (and the most convincing) of evidence is that Archimedes had his ‘eureka’ moment in the bath.

Sharing our bath water, yes I always get in last.

So what is the purpose of this self indulgent ramble. All of us get bombarded , on a daily basis, with information from the media, the web, our friends and colleagues, that if we take a course of action in a particular way, it will be more efficient, plus benefiting ourselves, those around us and society in general. Most of this information is correct and should be considered. Occasionally, as individuals, we have a belief that our way would actually be better. If it is better for you, your organisation, or those close to you and it does not impact negatively on people or things  around you, stick with it.

Service or double fault ?

For a long time retailers in the UK, left a lot to be desired when it came to service. Much has changed in recent years , a bit like UK restaurants, when they are good , they are hard to beat. 

Hence, when you do get bad service it sticks out like a sore thumb. I am not the type who will give a torrent of abuse to a retailer just because they not bowing to my every need but two recent experiences really wound me up. On both occasions, they were multiple retailers, one large and one small.

Recently , Julia and I visited a particular small chain retailer, looking for a sofa. They were specialists who only sold there own brand and it was a design we both liked. Julia rang the store,in London’s West End, to ask if this design was in the showroom and that we would be coming in about a hours time. 

Now, my wife can be like an Exocet missile when it comes to bad service. You don’t see her coming but creates havoc on impact. On this particular   occasion  she was like a cuddly pussy cat. We asked at least four technical questions (technical to us) , each one was prefaced by ‘…I am sorry to disturb you…’.

Each and every time the shop assistant (and that is exactly what they were) stood up from behind their computer and gave their answer, then promptly sat down again. On the one occasion, that she came over to give her answer (she had to because we were out of visual contact) she spun on a sixpence, returned to her computer and colleague and continued their discussion  on how nice would it would be if there was a shower in the shop.

Now our dilemma was that we wanted to buy this sofa. But there was no way we were going to give her the satisfaction of knowing that , or indeed rewarding her tawdry retailing skills. So we thought we would try another branch. The following weekend, we visited another branch , and the experience could not have been different. The staff were delightful, informative,welcoming and made us feel like a ‘valued ‘ customer. We made our purchase and enjoyed the retail experience. Julia has vowed she will have her Julia Roberts moment in the West End store.

The next event happened last week. I went into a national chain, Halfords, and bought 2 water bottles for my bike . On approaching the till, the guy said would I mind taking my purchases downstairs as he had a form to complete. For all he knew I could have been trying to buy a two grand bike, instead of £4 worth of water bottles. Like a good boy, I tottered down the stairs and joined a queue of one. When it was my turn , I received an apology for having to wait sixty seconds. Noticing he was the deputy manager, I said ‘….thank you but I suggest you tell your colleague upstairs, that taking customers cash is a priority to form fulfilling…’ He, then asked if he actually did this , and then he said he would talk to him.

The point here is that there are retailers within our industry displaying a similar lack of professionalism. Friday evening I ordered an item from Amazon. It arrived through my letter box 8:30 on Saturday morning . Frightening as it is, this is where we are. We have to step up to the mark where necessary and show how good we can be. For those that don’t there won’t be many tomorrows left in retailing.

When I say ‘we’ I mean the royal ‘we’. Whether supplier or retailer we have to try to work to make sure that our industry grows and does not succumb to threats such supply from web from source. 

Wary of Watchdog…..

I am not over enamoured with the BBC consumer programme ‘Watchdog’. Some of the presentations are made with a slightly smug attitude. More annoying is the propensity to superficiality and lasy investigating.

So it was with a great deal of apprehension that I watched last Thursday’s edition knowing they were doing a final comment on the problem of flammability and kids Halloween costumes, forty eight hours prior to this year’s Halloween.

What a welcome surprise to see them offering sensible tips on how to prevent potential accidents this year. There, however, were more surprises to come as they added cosmetic contact lenses to the programme.

Apparently, they have been informed by trading standards, that you cannot sell them without an optometrist, or medical practioner,on site. It is against the law. Now being ‘Watchdog ‘ , I had my reservations . However, it seems that  this is the case. As is their want, they visited ten costume/party  shops and were offered contact lenses, without their being an optometrist on site. No surprise there. I have never been comfortable about cosmetic lenses . Being a past wearer of contacts , I know how much of a pain they can be. To wear them cosmetically, in an environment where there the user is likely to be ‘blotto’ before or after, to me is not a good mix. Yet, as far as I know there have been very few, if any, incidents over the last four or five years.

What are the criminal offences involved?

Zero-powered lenses can be supplied only by or under the supervision of a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or medical practitioner.

Supervision requires the registered person to be present on the premises, aware of the procedure and in a position to intervene if necessary. The seller/supplier must also make arrangements for the wearer to receive ongoing care.

Any sales of cosmetic contact lenses that do not meet these requirements are ilegal under the Optician Act.

When we learn about alleged breaches of the Act, we take action. In the first instance, we will usually write to the seller and invite them to cease any illegal activity. Further action may be taken if necessary, for example, a private prosecution or liaison with the CPS or other public prosecuting body.

General Optical Council

This appears quite clear. However, I am sure the retailers in our industry are completely unaware of this. From initial browsing I can see no mention of it on suppliers web sites. If this is as straight forward as it appears then retailers are going to have a good look at what they are selling and how they intend to go forward. 

Whilst the huge peak of sales occur at Halloween, I know a number of retailers are able to sell the product year round. Without wanting to put the frighteners on anyone , I do suggest that , where relevant, everyone has a good look at what is legal and what is not. Watchdog is not known for just looking at a product the one time without returning to the scene. But more importantly, retailers need to sort this out before anything nasty happens.