Mrs M & S …. or Mrs S & M ?….

(Sorry earlier post …posted by accident as it was unfinished!)

Sorry to disappoint and with the chance of losing some readers , Mrs S & M is not a user of whips and chains. Her initials refer to stupid and moronic. ‘How so ? ‘ is the cry.
M&S have appointed a new chief exec , Tony Rowe. He has avowed to restore the company’s lost market share in clothing. One of his ideas is to find the new Mrs M & S. In my view that is part of their problem. It is as likely as finding Mrs S & M. The consumer has changed and many, unless it is high end and exclusive, do not want to be  immediately associated with any brand all their friends, colleagues,neighbours , and the person next to them in the queue can instantly be recognised as a High st chain.The young don’t and now the famed ‘baby boomers’ cash rich (apparently)and trendy, most certainly don’t . The latter group would, historically, have been the store’s target customer. Just as important is that the consumer is not stupid, if you don’t have what they want they go elsewhere or don’t spend.

Losing sight of who your customer is, is a common problem with many traditional retailers. And we, in the party industry, are not immune to these changes. After the fashion industry , we are probably as affected than most other retailers. Only last week I was talking with a retail customer who was explaining the extraordinary change in his local customer base over the last five years. It has gone from a low income family based grouping to a very high income, family, single, various age groups from early twenties to mid sixties. With such a change he is delighted to do so, but he has to make changes or the business would have suffered as opposed to flourishing.

Many are not aware of the huge consumer changes that are occurring . I am not talking about online but in consumer attitudes, wants and wishes. Many retail analysts believe that there is no shortage of consumer expenditure but believe that retailers are not offering the consumer what they are looking for, and as a consequence retail spending remains relatively flat.

Over the last 20 years there is a litany of major retailers that have vanished from the High St. There are often many reasons for failure but one common factor is not being aware their customer has changed and metaphorically ‘walked on by’. A very simple example of a retailer that has adapted, yet you would think was hamstrung by its brand, is the Carphone Warehouse. Carphones don’t exist anymore, but the company does  and is thriving.

Now what will be an interesting watch is the newly appointed CEO of Debenhams. Sergio Bucher, ex head of fashion at Amazon Europe. I suggest Tony Rowe, M & S  man and boy, will have his work cut out if he has a resurgent Debenhams to cope with.

Our industry will only flourish if both supplier and retailer are aware and adapt to these changes. The supplier must supply product to meet the changing demand and in turn retailers need to have confidence in their supply chain in order to introduce these changes in their store offer. The retailer, in turn, should be the first to know of these changes. They above all others , including online operators, are the ones who are closest to their consumer . The retailer is the only one who can ask ‘…what are you looking for ?’. Then make sure they hear the answer.

Not on the high street, nor on the net ?

There is a trend. There is always a trend. Much of our lives are now governed by trends. Indeed people earn their living identifying trends. Trends are critical to our industry. Is it to be ‘where’s Wally’, Superheroes, Steampunk, or Downton Abbey, short skirts, long skirts, short hair ,long hair, high fat, all protein.If we don’t know what’s trending we don’t have the right gear to sell.

However,this one is, perhaps, a little unexpected. It started a couple of years ago when online operations thought it might be a bit different to have a shop. eBay had pop up shops in London’s West End at Christmas. The very same operator then opened up portals through Argos. Sainsburys buy Argos , in order to develop their own online operation (bit confused by this move) Then, lo and behold, Amazon open up book shops in the USA. It opened one last November and planning 3-400 more throughout North America . Now one of the UK’s main online gift operators is looking at pop ups.

It would not be the first time I have written about the importance of ‘clicks and bricks’ but the current situation is suggesting that the concept is taking hold with a number of major players. Some commentators are suggesting that UK online sales are slowing. I am very aware of a number of Internet companies within in our industry considering stores if they don’t already have one. You, only, have to look at Party Delights, one of Europe’s largest sites, they have one store , there will, undoubtedly, be more. 

Recently, one of my customers, who has a long established store and a strong online presence, illustrated the importance of a store. To loosely quote …

…..when somebody visits our site and leaves, we never really know why. When somebody walks into our store , we find out what they are looking for, can we meet that need and if not should we be looking to ensure that we would be able to meet that need in the future. If a consumer were to leave without buying something, we have the opportunity to find out why and to take steps to not let that happen . And often  it is information we can use in the development of our site….

It is no secret that a lot of onliners are finding margins increasingly tight. They understand that one of the hurdles to opening a store is the stock. They already have the stock, more importantly they probably have a lot more stock than most independent retailers without any further financial commitment. In many cases , they do not need additional premises as they can experiment by using the existing resources. Yet , there is one factor they do not always understand, and that is range. Many online operators focus on ‘best sellers’. As a store you cannot rely on just ‘ best sellers’ , if for no other reason, you won’t look any different from your competitors. And from here, I think there is a lesson for web shops to learn, I don’t believe they can either.

This is just the start, there be many more major players seeking a High Street presence. As to whether they can make it work is debatable . But I do think Amazon will .