PERSPECTIVES

From The Co-Founders

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

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We recently learned of a restaurant with a kids menu which is quite unusual.

Of course, having a kids menu is not unique. But here's what IS unusual about this one.

When kids are asked "What would you like to eat?", often their answers can range from "I don't know" to "I don't care." 

But at this restaurant, here is what each all-too-familiar answer brings to the table:

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"How are sales?" is essentially the international greeting between retailers. 

And because of the seasonality of retail sales, most retailers will respond by explaining whether sales this month are up or down versus the same month last year, not just the previous month. 

All this is well and fine in a normal year. But, since 2020, retailers have not been experiencing anything close to normal. And boy, does that show up in the 6-month retail sales trend charts that The ROI posts each month.
  • In sector after sector, December, January & February sales versus the prior year are markedly different than the March-April-May results. In some cases, these are quite dramatic. 

Your results are likely to be consistent with these patterns.

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The basic definition of retailing is "selling to the ultimate consumer." 

As you know, HOW that is done, and in what location or format, continues to change and evolve. 

So, we were intrigued by this recent post on the Shopify Retail Blog: The Future of Physical Retail in a Digital-First World.*

  • The "retail digital-first world", of course, is either the "pure play e-commerce retailers," those who sell only online, or the "brands" (what we used to call manufacturers) who have embraced the "DTC model," selling direct-to-consumer. 
     
  • And as you know, Shopify is one of the largest platforms for e-commerce businesses. Definitely a leader of the retail digital-first world.

To us, the blog post was essentially a wide-ranging journey of discovery(and perhaps even some new-found respect for those "physical retailers".)

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As the second quarter of the year begins, many of us are experiencing what that fellow in the cartoon is feeling. We are not where we expected to be (and maybe not even where we thought we were!) 

Ahh yes, yet another flexibility test. The first quarter of 2022 was full of some major events, nationally and internationally, that disrupted many plans.

As you contemplate where you are now, compared to where you thought you were, and especially, where you intended to be, don't despair! Even more important, just like you do with the GPS system in your car, disregard"returning to the prescribed route."

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ICYMI. You know, that's the shorthand for In Case You Missed It. And in fact, we had missed this.

"Consumer confidence rises for first time this year." 

As reported by Chain Store Age*, "The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose slightly to 107.2 in March, up from 105.7 in February. It was the first time the metric has increased in three months."

Wow! Is that ever a stray ray of sunshine! We always look to Consumer Confidence levels as a leading indicator for retailers.

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The season of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night is upon us. While Halloween comes and goes, there may be another very unhappy monster haunting retailers this Holiday season. And it is spooky!

What is this monster? It is an unintended consequence of the good faith efforts of many retailers to provide "excellent customer service." Customer expectations have been raised to heights that may not be fulfilled this year. A grim reality is setting in. 

For retailers, the Fog of Uncertainty that began in April 2020 around the pandemics keeps coming back. Just when it appeared that we were ready to "get back to life" if not "back to normal," the Delta variant has surged. 

This has created more uncertainty. How willing are your customers to actually go out and shop? Even more important (to you): how willing are YOUR customers to shop with YOU?

So, here's an idea: Why not ask them? Really. Send them a short questionnaire.*

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  • "Consumer confidence rose sharply for a second straight month, hitting the highest level since the pandemic began," according to the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index. 
     
  • "Economists believe that the rising consumer confidence will bolster overall economic growth as consumers, who account for 70% of economic activity, step up their spending as lockdown restrictions are eased." *

This is welcome news for many retailers, as consumer confidence has been a key leading indicator of retail sales.

However, a note of caution: retail sales are not the sole component of consumer spending.

  • "As more businesses and cities reopen, consumers will have even more places to spend the savings they've accumulated during the pandemic." **