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.
We can't help but wonder: have retailers spoiled the customers?
Customers not only expect – but some feel entitled to – wide selection, significant discounts, unique assortments, all kinds of special perks, easy no-questions-asked returns, immediate delivery (free of course), and always service with a smile. And all at a special low price.
Over time, well-intended retailers have raised the expectations of shoppers worldwide. And for many years, those expectations have been met or exceeded.
However, this year those expectations may be haunting retailers. We've created a monster that feels entitled. One with a loud voice, and a lot of clout.
The challenge: just don't take it personally. And remember, this monster very likely has a short memory.
As we approach April of 2021, the question for retailers is "Now what?" Having survived 2020, in many cases on guts and guile, we must now focus on how best to survive 2021 and beyond.
As having one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat, the future of retailers in that Red Zone is not a pretty picture.
Granted, there is much talk about the expectation that "convenience" will become a major factor for shoppers going forward. And we don't disagree.
Here's the deal: We see that this has brought heightened awareness of two different retail strategies: Convenience Retailing versus Destination Retailing.
Yes, we know. Owning a retail business these days is one flexibility test after another. And there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
In the United States, one of the most widespread impacts of the virus is uncertainty. With no end in sight. It is the virus that is in charge. As the president of Alaska Airlines noted, "We don't know what the future looks like."*
But the fact remains, whomever is selling to the ultimate consumer has leverage. Might that be you?
About a year ago, as the pandemics were beginning to hit their stride, we introduced a framework for retailers to "rethink your merchandise mix."
As depicted in the chart above, we cautioned that once the lockdown was over, as customers resumed shopping, retailers should be prepared for (1) reduced sales totals overall; (2) significantly re-balanced merchandise mixes, initially dominated by "basics/never-outs."
Further, we anticipated that the merchandise mix would continue to change as we re-emerge from the effects of the pandemics. And we urged retailers to take this overall construct and adapt it to their own situation; to develop their own customized strategic response.*
Now, one year later, here's how this can become "news you can use" to quickly produce your Big Picture buying plan. Especially in the spring of 2021, some practical answers to "What to buy?" , "How much?" and "When?" are likely to be very welcome.
Another real challenge of 2021 is rearing its head: Whatever you used to do in terms of managing your staff likely will not work this year.
In the aftermath of the pandemics, lockdowns, stimulus payments, low unemployment, and minimum wage increases, finding and keeping good employees is even more daunting for independent retailers.
As we look out at the second half of 2023, we're actually quite optimistic for independent retailers worldwide. No, really!
The statistics haven't yet borne out what we are "seeing," but just wait a bit.
To begin our justification, let's look at the really Big Picture. Generally, the Covid pandemic has been wrestled down. Likewise, inflationary prices seem to no longer be a threat. The worrisome political scene has resumed its traditional state of boredom, and the major concern now is something we can't do much about: each day's weather.
So, looking at the Big Picture, we see the general population for the second half of the year to be quite serene, even optimistic. And that bodes very well for shoppers' confidence!
As we reflect on this year and the multiple and still-ongoing effects of the pandemic, we are inspired once again by the resilience and perseverance of independent retailers.
Then we saw a comment about dealing with adversity that seems particularly relevant to retailers.
Remember Cher, the entertainer? (And conservationist and philanthropist.) She was asked by Christine Amanpour about how she dealt with adversity and setbacks (like bankruptcy) throughout her career.
Still less than $1 a day! 👀