From The Co-Founders


Tips, Tactics & Strategic Insights and Commentary
from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts


As we follow economic indicators that particularly affect retailers, our primary focus always is consumer confidence. And the reports coming out this week give us pause. 

  • "The Consumer Sentiment Index fell by 13.5% from July, to a level that was just below the April 2020 low of 71.8," notes Richard Curtin, chief economist for the University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers.*
  • "The extraordinary surge in negative economic assessments reflects an emotional response, mainly from dashed hopes that the pandemic would soon end."

The highly transmissible Delta variant and the vaccine hesitancy of many have changed the momentum. Covid fatigue is back. This affects consumers. 

And with it, more challenges for retailers. Decisions and policies may be needed regarding vaccinations, both for your staff and your shoppers. Meanwhile, consumers are likely taking another pause. Will schools reopen? Will offices reopen? 

So, what's a retailer to do? What you always do: deal with it! 

You likely are aware of buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) programs, from Afterpay, Affirm, and Klarna, among others. It gained a foothold in online retail – "the hottest trend in e-commerce"– and has been especially popular in the UK and Australia. Now its availability to many more retailers may be accelerated with the proposed acquisition by Square of Afterpay. It is a trend we all need to watch carefully.

Here's the deal. Once again, the retailer is the pickle in the middle. The benefits of increasing sales (and average transaction value) which are very attractive, must be weighed against the potential increases in hassle factors, particularly for your most valuable asset: your front line staff

Ahh yes. Retail IS detail! 

Time to move on from Covid, and get our minds back on retail. Focus on the merchandise. And the customers. And the results. In other words, it's time to put the fun back into retailing!

So, here are a few of The ROI's "attention to detail" reminders that you may want to have at the ready for your next staff meeting. A refreshing change of pace for everybody!



We know that retail startups are up, but alas, so too are retail failures; even higher than historical norms. 

Why is this happening?

  • Is it Amazon? Or, the pandemic? Or tight money?
  • Or supply chain problems? Or not enough good employees? Or Covid fatigue?
  • Unable to keep up with competitors? Overly-demanding landlords?
  • Downtowns or malls being slow to bring customers back? 
  • Or, some combination of factors? Or...? Or...?

Yes, the headwinds for retailers right now are real, and plenty difficult.

However, it turns out that the underlying causes of failures do not change; like cockroaches, they just endure!

You managed the "Pandemic Pivot." So, now what?

A little chaotic, isn't it?

  • Have you shopped in a grocery store lately? Noticed the priority parking spaces reserved for the "professional shoppers?" Or observed those folks darting about the store, staring at their phones, often filling two grocery carts? 
  • Or, maybe you've attended (or plan to attend) a trade show this year. Did you find a "hybrid experience?" That is, a combination of the remote experience – Zoom sessions, special apps, etc – with some live, more traditional elements? Did exhibitors tout their online ordering capabilities? Did you keep having the feeling that something was missing? (Or wondering why you had shown up in person?)
  • Have you gone into a store, and encountered rows of racks of packages awaiting pickup by customers, or more likely, a delivery driver?
  • Or, alternatively, gone into a store to pickup an online order for yourself, and been dispatched to the far reaches of the store?

You likely have experienced some of these dilemmas from the customer side. So you know how annoying or unsatisfactory it can be. 

But you also are living that dilemma from the retailer's side. 

"Buy low. Sell high. Collect early. Pay late."

That's the essence of retailing, right? But now, in the early summer of 2021, retailing more than ever demands a strong dose of good judgment.

It's shouted everywhere: "Look out! The inflation tsunami is coming!"

Yikes! It's buying season for many retailers, and the pressures to buy more, now, at these-low-prices-that-won't-last are mounting. And this is only the beginning.

Being the owner of a business always has pluses and minuses. Usually the pluses outnumber the minuses. But maybe not so much right now.

If you feel that way, you've got a lot of company. Ugh! But hang on; maybe we have a perspective that you'll find useful and timely. It's called "Misery loves company!"

First, consider where we are. Early July, just past a nice Fourth of July Holiday weekend. The summer and early fall look promising, both for getting "back to normal" and for some leisure hours in the hammock. Nice, eh?

But there are those dark clouds out there. 

For some time, conventional wisdom has characterized independent retailers as "technology laggards."

Not that they are Luddites; it's just that they regarded retail technology as a major expense, especially in human capital. They often were cautious, even skeptical, about the promises of new technology being pitched to them.

When the pandemics arrived, many retailers responded rapidly and smartly. In scramble mode, some crammed five years of technology adoption into five months!

Now, as the lockdown restrictions recede, the conventional wisdom eagerly suggests that consumers of all ages will continue to rely on online shopping and other technology. 

Hmm. Let's consider that "conventional wisdom" a bit more closely.