A personal story of multiple v independent.

Just a quick blog this week and it concerns a number of points. One of which is a personal experience with a large multiple and the lesson it holds. 

So last Friday my wife did our weekly shop and decided to go to our local Tesco Extra. A typical out of town box of some 100,000 square feet. Big, sprawling and impersonal. When she returned home she discovered she had two charges showing on her card. One family shop, two charges. Not really satisfactory. Quick call to Tesco to explain we had been charged twice to be told it sometimes happens and the error will be picked up and corrected over the next two or three days. Not really satisfactory. Midweek and the €130 or so is still being held and the funds are not available to us. Not very satisfactory. Today, after we followed up with our bank, they tell us it will take 10 working days to get the funds back in our account and available to us. Not really satisfactory.

So what does this small insignificant event tell us about our modern retail environment?

Firstly our potential problem is of little concern to anyone in our local Tesco. In these difficult times  it’s not good enough to just dismiss this type of error, Tesco’s error. For all they know we need those funds to cover a mortgage repayment or other pressing bills. Who would assist a customers who has direct debits bouncing all over the place due to this type of situation, not Tesco or our bank for that matter it seems. Luckily we are not in that position but the retailer doesn’t know this or care it appears.

Secondly, as we are pushed towards cashless payments more and more this type of experience would colour my judgement in future transactions with someone like a Tesco.

Thirdly the off hand manner in how the problem was dealt with seems to suggest this is not an isolated event. 

We here at Stylefinch are passionate about independent retail and although this type of event is a nuisance it does allow me to take some positives from the experience. Independent retail still enjoys some advantages over the multiples when it comes to this type of problem. It has always been felt that independent retail can win over the larger retailers by way of customer service and that personal touch. This week has just underlined that fact to me again. I know at least 25% of my the independent retailers in my town by name and another 40% to say hello to and the balance I’d know to see. I recently bought a pair of shoes (thank you Richie Whelan Menswear) from one and noted I was charged €10 over the marked price. I dropped back in and explained the error and was handed €10 cash back there and then. I paid by card, didn’t matter, I wanted to show my receipt, didn’t need to see it. The refund was from the business owner even though he hadn’t been present when I purchased the shoes the day earlier.

Distinct difference in approach. The town in which I live has a population of 25,000 so it’s of a reasonable size. The Tesco is 1.5km from this store but 1000km from their approach.

This is why we must all strive to get the message out that towns and cities without independent retail are towns and cities without a heart. Saving the high street is not just good commerce it’s social.

Remember an independent high street it’s not business it’s personal.


Do what your good at… Retail.

The eCommerce world is dynamic, it changes quickly and what’s fashionable this year is out next. Sound familiar? The business of eCommerce has many parallels with retail, in particular fashion retail. It’s in a state of constant change, it’s re-imagined and refined in an effort to sustain growth and innovation.It’s an exciting high energy space with continued growth predictions.

So why, oh why are there not more independent retailers making inroads online and making their presence felt? There are some barriers to entry, especially if you’re alone and do not have a support structure aimed at getting online and managing the many facets associated with becoming an eCommerce player. Another reason could be found in the latest report as highlighted by the Digital Marketing Institute.

(you’ll find the details here http://digitalmarketinginstitute.ie/blog/half-of-europeans-lack-digital-skills ). Put simply the report found that up to 50% of Europeans have little or no digital skills. It would therefore stand to reason that a high percentage of retailers fall into this category too. This is not something that should be a deterrent  to getting your business online. Quite a few retailers I’ve spoken to recently have expressed their embarrassment at not being digitally literate so to speak. My answer is quite simply that they have no great need to be.  My assertion is that if you can run a facebook page you’re not a million miles away (or kilometers in some parts) from being able to manage a basic eCommerce site.

I have yet to meet great techies and web designers who could run a retail outlet of any size. Lets think about that for a moment. As an independent retailer you are responsible for merchandising, purchasing, marketing, customer service, staffing, book keeping, pricing etc, etc, etc. So I would suggest it’s unreasonable to beat ourselves up for not being web developers, Search Engine Optimisation experts, Digital and Social marketing experts, Fulfillment specialists etc, etc, etc. If you want to install a tap you call a plumber, if you want to get accounts signed off get an accountant and so on. Why then if you want to sell online do we feel we have to do that ourselves.

Independent retail is very well placed to become a force in eCommerce. It’s easier for you to become a multichannel retailer than it is for say the ASOS’s of this world. It’s easier for you to stand out from the crowd and leverage your local loyal customer base than it is for someone like Tesco. You have a level of exclusivity that the multiples don’t enjoy. Not everyone wants to look the same, right. So if you’re in retail you should be in eCommerce. You have 90% of the work done. You know your business, you know your customer, you have your product so do what you do when you need accounts signed off. Find somebody to get the job done for you or as in our case with you. Independent retail has diversity, individuality, exclusivity and many other advantages over the larger chains so don’t let insecurity about your level of technical knowledge stop you. Take it from us at Stylefinch cost or technical knowledge is no longer a barrier to entry.

Storpal bricks &c clicks logo

High street closures, it’s not a done deal you know!

The demise of our high streets is very current right now. I’ve read this week of a near apocalyptic scenario whereby it’s predicted that up to 20% of UK high street stores will close by 2018. That figure could rise it seems to 30% for Wales and the North West of the UK, according to the Mail at any rate. This is now being reported as fact and is in danger as being consumed as such. Is there any other industry where this would happen? I think not. Independent retail is diverse and as such can sometimes struggle to speak with one voice. For example how would the drinks industry, pharmaceutical industry, road haulage industry and perhaps farmers react to such headlines? Loudly no doubt.

We need to get away from the fait accompli approach to the high street. This is not a fact and is not guaranteed to happen if the high street and independent retailers react. Retail is and always has been about change. Seasonality, product and range, merchandising and reacting to the challenges presented over the last 100 years. Wanamaker’s Grand Emporium Philadelphia saw the arrival of the merchandiser, retailers began to welcome customers to their stores. This was more than just a catchphrase as retailers dismantled steps and any other hindrance a customer might encounter prior to entry. Next on the agenda was large windows, dressed with mannequins. Ground breaking indeed. The death of the small retailer was imminent it seemed. Guess what they adapted.

Stores such as Selfridges of London, Marshall Fields of Chicago and Bon Marche of Paris were swiftly followed Frank Woolworth and the first chain store in the early 20th Century. Independent retail was on the ropes. However the next retail revolution was not another large format but was the arrival of the boutique. The fact is when you chart the development of retail you see a constant pattern of change. Decline and renaissance as portrayed in the book “The Business of Britain in the 20th Century”.

The fact that retail is all about change should allow us to grab the new environment of eCommerce and mold it to suit our needs as retailers. Technology is changing the world at ever increasing speeds. The way we bank, the way we communicate and yes the way we shop. But behind all the technology there’s always people. We as retailers have communicated with our customers face to face, on our shop floors. We can still communicate but our shop floor is now in more than one place. If anything it’s now even easier to meet our customers, easier to have a conversation, a real two way conversation. But in order to do this we must be in the right state of mind and in the right places. Our high street location is now only one such place. Others include twitter, facebook, pinterest and hopefully on our eCommerce enabled web site. Change brings with it great challenges but it also brings great opportunities. Embrace the opportunities to mitigate the challenges.

As independent retailers we need to be more confident. Independent retail offers individuality, service, diversity and more often than not quality. Quality of service and product. Getting drawn into a price war with online retailers is a zero sum game. Independent retail brings much more to the party than price. Get online, develop an eCommerce site. Do this not just to sell but to shout. Shout about what you’re good at, your advantages, your personality. Be brave and embrace the change, after all where would retail be without change?

Let’s make multi-channel retailing a by line for a strong independent retail sector.

I’ve just had sight of the latest eCommerce Europe press release and it makes for exciting reading. It gets really exciting if you’re a retailer and even more so if you are getting, or have plans to get, your slice of the pie. The question though is how many retailers are getting their share and if they are not then why not?

Five years ago for many independent retailers the web and eCommerce were asides and worthy of note but it seemed little else. Those that did venture online usually did so by getting a web site built and in all probability collected customers e mail addresses. They did this because it was what you were meant to do and let’s face it, it was fashionable. But what about a return? What about the fact that getting a site built was the easy part and maintenance and management was really where the skill set was required?

Here we all are in 2013 and it seems many independent retailers are more aware than ever of the need to get online. However the game has changed and it’s no longer enough to simply get a web site developed. What is required is a full multi-channel approach to retailing. This can all get a bit scary if you’re an independent retailer without the expertise or budgets of the larger operators who have whole departments given over to eCommerce. But I’d argue that because the Tesco’s, Next’s and Debenham’s of this world have placed such importance on the sector it is now a necessity for independent retail to do the same.

This is where it gets difficult however and insecurity and doubt can enter the equation. Do we have the budgets, do we have the expertise and, in all probability the biggest limiting factor, do we have the time?

Well I believe we do. If you buy into that then we can move the debate forward and start focusing on what makes independent retail great and the many advantages it has in the eCommerce sector.

Let’s start with the fact that independent retail is operated by people who are passionate about retail. That passion might wane for individuals periodically but overall I believe that to be true. If retailers were not, then in all probability they’d put all the hassles behind them and go work for a large multiple and draw a wage every week. That passion usually means they possess product knowledge and service levels superior to the larger chains and online only operators.

Independent retail is not just about commerce as they populate town centres and high streets as opposed to the larger out of town centres. They provide a social hub and fabric as opposed to a giant grey box on the edge of town.

If we look at independent retail as a group then the advantages it has over the oft times bland and uniformed approach taken by the chains is indisputable. But how do we get that message across? How do we let the consumer know that independent retail can offer individuality, range of product and price as well as service levels that leave the chains and large operators in the shade? We would say by taking a strength in numbers approach. Independent retailer’s competition is no longer the boutique or corner shop down the road it’s the multi-channel giants such as Debenham’s et al and the online operators such as ASOS. By taking a new collaborative approach then independent retail can package and market themselves to a wider audience. As I always believed I’d much rather have my largest competitor next door then two miles away. At least then I can compete and even take advantage of their marketing and footfall.

Independent retailers need to play to their strengths, of which there are many. I’ve only touched on a few. The new and exciting world of multi-channel retailing is not a threat but a great opportunity. Okay so you’ve only got 1000 sq foot on the high street. Well guess what that’s a 1000 sq foot more than ASOS. To me that means it’s easier for you to become a multi-channel retailer than it is for them. Did you know the fastest means of fulfilment for consumers whilst shopping online is click and collect? You can do that easy. Did you know 80% of all online searches start out as local searches and that 96% of UK and 94% of US consumers research online before purchasing locally? You know who these consumers are, they’re your bread and butter. Did you know that 87% of UK and 85% of US consumers felt that multichannel was influential on their shopping habits? Well now you do and you can start influencing them.

In short and to make a long story a little longer, independent retail needs to be more proactive and confident when it comes to eCommerce you hold more cards than you realise. Let’s make multi-channel retailing a by line for a strong independent retail sector.

http://www.ecommerce-europe.eu/press/2013/05/press-release-european-e-commerce-to-reach-312-billion-in-2012-19-growth )