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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See the forest, not just the trees

Now that we've put a wrap on 2021, and before we really dive into 2022, it's time to catch your breath and reflect on where we are after 2021. 

Perhaps like us you believe that fundamental and enduring changes have occurred; no one can operate on "auto-pilot" anymore. All of us have to learn new processes, and form new habits. What's it called? Oh yes; "embracing change." Lots of it. 

That's why it is a very opportune time, particularly for owners, to have a very active Q&A session with themselves. 

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As we get ready for the New Year, and the post-Holiday season slowdown settles in, here's a positive way for retailers to re-energize and re-focus their entire organization, whether one store or even a hundred. 

We learned this from one of our clients with nearly 50 stores widely scattered over 6 states. Each day, without fail, they would take time for what they called the "Corporate Cheer." 

You will see how it can be a fun addition to any retail business, no matter the size.

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In most years, this is the week that is typically a bit of a lull. The first wave of shoppers – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, Cyber Monday – has crested; the final wave doesn't begin in earnest until this coming weekend.

But this year IS different. Shoppers began shopping in earnest much earlier. And they use the internet to do their browsing, and then have an array of choices for receiving their purchases, from delivery to curbside pickup to in-store pickup.

So, what better time than this to revisit your returns policy?!

 

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For retailers there are two very strong trends happening now through the Holiday Season. And they are remarkably divergent. 

  • One that is getting a lot of publicity is how Target, WalMart, etc. are promoting their “Black Friday “ specials four weeks before Thanksgiving. 

    Sounds desperate to us, but it is a sign of the times. 

It has begun; the 4th quarter of the year. But sadly, Covid-19, the Delta variant, and now the Alpha variant will have huge influence. 

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of opinions and predictions about the economy, whether from Wall Street, the Fed, Capitol Hill, or your buying group or retail trade association. 

Amidst all this, we were intrigued by a report that could be of far more value to retailersresults of a monthly survey of consumer concerns.* After all, for retailers, the shopper matters much more than the pundits on the business pages.

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Just when it seems we can get to the "New Normal" or the "Next Normal," another disruption comes along. 

"There still is so much uncertainty" is the lament, often accompanied by a sigh of weariness. Or resignation. Trying to plan for the Holiday season, or looking ahead to 2022, can seem especially daunting right now.

Occasionally, all of our businesses need to hit "pause;" this is one of those times. 

Recognize that thanks to the pandemics, most everything about running your business has changed. Your merchandise mix; your customers; your staff; your competitors; your suppliers; your landlord; your technology; etcetera. Everything!

  • With all those changes, how could going forward have much resemblance to however you used to do business?
  • And as is always true in retail, the name of the game is adjusting!

We hear it over and over. "Good business citizenship" matters to shoppers. Might Labor Day weekend be a good time to start getting the word out about your citizenship contributions?

Customers vote with their feet, their wallets, and their hearts, and increasingly choose those retailers who "do the right thing", whether it's how they source product, hire and pay employees, reduce environmental impacts, etc.

There are things that independent retailers do day in and day out, without perhaps even realizing how special they are! 

Most retailers we know are "aw shucks" type people. It's charming, but, especially in today's world, your leadership can be a competitive edge! So, why keep it a secret? 

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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!