What have you planned for 2014?

Christmas is well and truly behind us and the blank canvas of 2014 stretches out ahead. Here at Stylefinch central we have big plans for this year but perhaps that can wait for another day.

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I did come across an interesting article this morning which prompted the latest blog. The article in question refers to the latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker data and can be seen here http://www.myfinances.co.uk/cut-your-bills/2014/01/06/retailers-experienced-underwhelming-sales-over-christmas.

In short it shows a fragmented picture of the Christmas shopping season. It says that the medium sized high street retailers saw a drop of 2.2% when compared to 2012. Indeed like for like sales (excluding online sales) dropped by 6.7% in the week ending December 22nd.

The last sentence is where the nuance really is, excluding online sales. We are very firmly of the belief that the high street is going nowhere, at least for the foreseeable future. Why do we think this? Well even with all the hype Worldwide Ecommerce will account for less that 10% of the total retail spend last year. But again the devil is in the detail here, as the winners from this year’s Christmas period will testify. The big winners this year are the likes of Next, John Lewis and House of Fraser. All brick and mortar retailers with a very heavy presence online. Now I know these guys are big, they have deep pockets and can bring resources to bear that the average high street retailer can only dream of, but, and there’s always a but, the playing field is being leveled.

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Many of the tools the big guys are using in their retail strategies are now available to the small independent group or individual. It’s now easier than ever to establish yourself as an omni-channel retailer regardless of size or budget. You no longer need to have an in-debt knowledge of IT or the workings of back end systems. If you can use Facebook we believe you can run and effective on and offline strategy. Indeed the reason for doing this is simply to support the total business. The on and offline Worlds are now becoming one and the same to the consumer and it’s the retailers who grasp this that will survive and thrive in the new environment.

The consumer now expects to be able to interact with their favourite retailers across mobile devices, laptops, desktops and of course in the flesh. Indeed I believe in the flesh is still their preferred choice and all the other options can be utilised to make the physical in store experience more convenient and enjoyable. This trend is not going to slow down, consumers now expect multiple touch points and methods to shop their favourite stores. If you’re not offering them these options they will simply go elsewhere.

I’ve believe and will never stop saying the independent high street retailers enjoy many advantages over their larger competitors. They can differentiate themselves through product range, service and flexibility. Against the online only retailers they can enjoy the huge advantage of being seen as a tangible real world business and can capitalise in their catchment area and beyond using this major plus point.

So as a business whose main reason for coming into existence was to assist in the maintenance and growth of the independent high street we would like to see next year’s figures tell a different story.

Delivering overall growth, that’s the only game in town. It doesn’t matter if the brick and mortar portion is down 6% once the business as a whole is up. Customers are now researching online and buying in store, they’re clicking and collecting (the World’s fastest means of fulfilment), and they’re researching in store and buying on line. It really doesn’t matter how your customer buys once they remain your customer and buy from you.

Technology is not a reason for doing anything. Technology should be an enabler that leads to a beneficial result. It should always come back to people and in this instance the important people are the customers. As I recently said if we take a look back 100 years ago cutting edge tech consisted of the Model T, Oil and Radio. We take all of these for granted today and future generations will view current high tech solutions in the same way. As a retailer you really need to be where your customers are. In the past the footfall was specifically on the high street. Today the footfall is quite likely to be digital so to speak. Are you there?

If not you need to think about getting there. Not for the technology’s sake, but for the sake of your customer and ultimately your business. By all accounts growth is back on the agenda across the UK & Ireland so give some thought to your eCommerce strategy and make sure you get your fair share. Here’s to 2014.

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The future is not yet written.

Hi all, apologies for the short hiatus but we’ve been incredibly busy over the last five weeks. We are lucky enough to be part of the Telefonica/O2 Wayra academy. In short it’s an environment that is summed by their motto & now ours which is “The rules are not yet written”. I took a little liberty with it and amended it for this blog post. The Wayra accelerators are located across 12 countries and they choose the best of young tech start ups and provide them with world class facilities, support and people. It’s from this environment that we are about to take the step into the big bad real world and look to establish and grow our new exciting business. So that’s my excuse for the lack of posts.

Any how on to this month’s post. It concerns a report released to day by ING Bank. You can have a read of the details here

http://www.fashionunited.com/executive/management/fashion-in-2025-plenty-of-fast-fashion-few-independent-retailers-20131511493552

In short it predicts that there will be little or no independent fashion retailers by the year 2025. The reason they give is the rise of fast fashion and the dominance of the larger players across an increasingly globalised market.

We’re not actually Contrarians here at Stylefinch, although it may appear that way sometimes, it’s just that we fear being drawn into self fulfilling prophesies. If we are to accept that independent retail is doomed then perhaps all independents should just close up shop now? Clearly that would be nonsense. Retail is about change. The one constant, as it goes, is change. Nowhere is this more appreciated than in the retail environment. As a retailer you change product, merchandising, pricing, seasonality etc etc. That’s what the business is all about. Ever since the first department stores popped up over a 100 years ago people have been writing off independent retail. But it’s still here. It’s not the same but it’s still here. I don’t know what your area is like but in my home town the local butcher has made a remarkable comeback over the last 5 years. The two busiest food stores in the heart of the town are fruit and veg retailers. People are flocking to them because they trust them.

Trust them! This is an area where the independent can win. It doesn’t matter if it’s the local butcher or the local boutique the chances are the smaller retailer is closer to the customer. The big guys have all the stats and data but the independent’s get to meet the personalities. So if we all agree that the future is not yet written what can we do to write it. And write it in such a way that benefits the independent retailer and by extension the high street, towns, cities and society generally.

We can play the fast fashion and larger retailers at their own game. Use the tools at your disposal. eCommerce is not just a web site if it’s a web site at all. eCommerce opens up the opportunity to interact with your customer 24/7. Get active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest for example. It’s not rocket science, it’s not as time consuming as you think and in fact it can become enjoyable. Honestly. Best of all it’s free. The added value is over a very short period you too can get data and insights that could prove invaluable over time.

Don’t think of eCommerce and brick and mortar as either or. Retail is changing but it’s still retail. The fundamentals have not changed. It’s still about connecting with the customer, service, value (not just price), the experience etc. The list of fundamentals are the same whether you’re on or offline. The main thing is to be consistent.

In short the larger players do not have a monopoly on innovation and in fact their size can often be a negative. An independent can make 100’s of decisions a day without the need to go up some management chain. The retail space is becoming one of the most innovative. According to President Obama it’s second only to space travel, only joking. But seriously the new wave of innovative solutions coming down the line are not just aimed at the big guys, they are increasingly aimed at the independent retail sector.

The future is not yet written and even if the big guys think it is just think how much fun we can have mixing it up a little.

Here’s to an exceedingly busy run in to Christmas.

Cheers,

Mark.

future retail

Where the Independent can win.

In this day and age it seems the buzz words just keep coming. Two such words are “personalisation” and “individualisation”. These are not just words however they are much more than that. What they are, is the idea that all messages and campaigns can be personalised and targeted at a particular audience, or the Holy Grail, the individual.

doo i know you

Nowhere is this more important than in the brave new world of ecommerce and digital marketing. The idea is that using all the big data tools at their disposal large brands and retailers can get a particular product in front of a particular individual just around the time they might be contemplating a purchase. The problem however as I see it is the dichotomy of this approach. By definition the large brands and retailers have at their core the approach of mass appeal. Zara sells the same product in Ireland and the UK as they do in Spain for example. Tommy Hilfiger jeans as far as I can see are the same regardless of whether you buy them on Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street. The lovely thought that Calvin Klein or Debenhams is aware of exactly who you are and what your real world preferences are is so far from the mark. Even if they do have a profile of a customer bracket within which you happen to fit are you really going to believe that you and you alone will be walking the high street in the particular product you’re purchasing? I would think not.

This is where it gets interesting however. The big guys work on numbers, they churn big data and come up with very valuable insights. Their product is the same across the globe or country in which they operate but their marketing campaigns differ. If we contrast that with the wide and diverse world of Independent Retail we can see stark differences. And it’s in these differences that competitive advantages lie.

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The majority of independent retailers do not have access to the kind of data the big guys have. But the question is do they need it? The Independent is much more likely to know their customers by name than the multiple. They are likely to have more face time and real world interactions. They know their demographic and niche. They know these things not from some code or algorithm but from talking with, meeting and greeting the customer. The Independent retail sector as a whole is much more diverse and exciting than the big operators who work on a model based around volume and homogenisation. We really believe in Stylefinch HQ that the Independent retail sector should be shouting about the diversity and differences that exist across our high streets.

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In my local town there are 15 plus independent boutiques. Each boutique has a completely different flavour and diverse product range. You will not find the same labels or exact product in any one of them. The closest Shopping Centre is populated by M&S, Debenhams, Zara, New Look etc. and guess what they all look the same. If you have an event and want to look different then go to our boutiques. If you want to look like everybody else then open that next personalised Email and buy the product that has just been sent to hundreds if not thousands of others at the same time. The only thing personal about it is your name. For real personal sign up to your favourite local retailer’s Email marketing list or check out their smaller unique online store or better still go say hello. After all you know them and they know you.

Viva la difference.

Turn the tables on the downturn.

The news is old and the message repetitive, the high street is under pressure. Perhaps we should take comfort in the knowledge that there’s hardly a sector that is not (misery loves company after all). Sure the high street gets the press, perhaps due to the very real effects both visually and physically on the streets of our towns and cities. But take a drive through many industrial estates and the picture is similar with many units closed and up for sale or lease.

We are certainly in a period of great change but that doesn’t have to mean for the worse. Retail as we all know is about change. Seasonality, product ranges, pricing, merchandising, as retailers we are all about change. Hourly, daily, weekly, it’s what makes our industry so dynamic. So don’t fight it, instead use our capacity for change to turn the tables.

During the Independents Month initiative in Britain why not make a commitment to look at new and innovative ways to cement your business and it’s place on the high street. 

Did you know that just over 26% of UK and 16% of Irish businesses believe that investing in  eCommerce is vital for growth. Now contrast that with a recent finding that 49% of Britain’s smart phone users have made a purchase online within the last 6 months. More interesting yet is the fact that 36% of smartphone users had used a map tool in the 7 days prior to the survey. Would they find your shop if they were looking for it online?

Further data shows that 74% check their mail on their phone and 67% use their phone for search purposes. Both of these trends offer retailers an opportunity to get in front of their customers. How many of us have run email campaigns? How many of us have collected email addresses only to leave them sitting on our laptops or desktops?

How many of us would show up in a search query, for our location or category? None of the these even involve a website let alone an eCommerce enabled site. A simple web listing goes some way towards solving the search issue and a weekly or monthly mail shot gets directly to your customer. If you can find a more cost effective way to get in front of your customer I’d love to hear about it because right now I’d suggest email is still the number 1.

So I suppose this week I’d suggest again that even if your in the trenches and finding it hard to get your head up, if you can you’ll find opportunities do exist. In the words of the Pet Shop Boys “there’s a lot of opportunities if you’ll only take them”, the poetry of Neil Tennant there, can’t beat a bit of poetry. But seriously we love to take a collaborative approach where ever possible and this months Independents initiative is a great example of that approach. Well done to all involved and no doubt it will be a great success. As independents we do enjoy many advantages over the larger competition as I’ve said before. Strength in numbers is certainly one. When taken as a group our range of product, service and pricing leaves the largely homogeneous offering of the multiples for dead. We just need to shout about it and hopefully that’s what this months campaign will do.

Have a great month.