Retailing is hard….but perhaps all is not lost…

Phillip Day , owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill , has recently been quoted as saying the retail market is as hard as it has ever been. No doubt retailers  such as M&S , would not disagree, as they go through another shake up , trying to reinvent themselves yet again (I believe part of their problem is that they think they reinvent themselves, whilst in reality they paint over cracks and dint look much different to 20 years ago ). The problems are not confined to the UK , a retail analyst in the USA, birthplace of all things retail, has predicted that at least 50% of all shopping malls in the USA will close within 15-20 years.

Yet, Phillip Day currently goes from one success to another. Having completely restructured and revived the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, he has bought other ailing retailers such as Peacocks, Austin Reed and only last week Jaegers. Interestingly, he, rightly, turned his nose up at BHS, saying that there was nothing that could be done with it. 

Going back to the M&S situation, highlights the problem that many retailers, independent and multiples face( the Arcadia group was over 9% down on like sales at Christmas-might also be something to do with their boss) and that is the need to change and innovate. Yet don’t or can’t . The ‘can’t ‘ is invariably down to lack of funds or creativity. Which is why people like Day succeed as they appear to have both.

If the High Street was doomed why do the likes of Amazon, start to open stores ? Consumers still enjoy the experience of shopping . Retailers need to understand what that ‘enjoyment ‘ entails . The successful shopping centres are those that offer alternative experiences such as cinemas and restaurants. Many retailers feel that these outlets only take spend away from them and all that is left is a ‘browsing consumer ‘ with nothing left to spend . I suspect there is a lot of truth in that belief. However, on the flip side many stores are not much fun either. Poor service levels, low comfort levels ( I confess to not being a great shopper, but surely there can’t be a bigger turn off than over hot  department stores, both in winter and summer, lousy service and product selection) , lack of innovation and bad inventory control both in stock levels and product choice and innovation. Having personal experience of how long the ‘new product buying process’ can take (and that includes independents) , is it no wonder the consumer turns to their screens to buy . 

Another piece of recent research says that the age group 21-34 , still has intentions to spend but not on things but on experiences . Within our own industry i.e. Party, we are part of those ‘experiences ‘ and should be able to capitalise on that spend. In part this means enacting the retail cliche of creating ‘theatre’ . I beleive if a consumer walks into a retail outlet and comes out (even if they don’t buy the first time) and thinks I enjoyed going into that store they will be back and they will spend . Moreover, I firmly believe , they will return to that store before buying online. How can I be so sure? Cos I have seen it happen, and I know enough good retailers to know it works for them.

There are many other issues facing retailers, however, if they don’t get their own basics right, they have no chance and all will be lost.

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