The Customer is our North Star

It’s the consumer, stupid!

You’d be forgiven for believing that retail in 2017 is all about technology. There is a lot of talk of the ever growing importance of eCommerce, big data, location based marketing etcetera, etcetera. There’s no doubt that eCommerce is now incredibly important and is continuing to grow at a very impressive rate across the globe, especially when viewed against the backdrop of stagnating or falling traditional high street retailing. In 2016 eCommerce accounted for 10% of global retailing. However it did grow at an impressive 20% plus in 2016 and this is against stagnating or declining traditional high street retailing. Global retail is a $21 trillion business so at 10% eCommerce is hardly small beer. Moreover the forecast is to have eCommerce take an impressive $4 trillion slice of global retail by 2020.

But all of the tech talk and impressive online sales growth is to miss the really really important point surrounding retail.  The technology is only an enabler and can never be the end in itself. For example let’s put technology in perspective. 100 years ago cutting edge tech was the Model T, RCA and wireless trading rooms connecting Wall Street to the great Atlantic liners of the time. So tech moves on. And so it is for all the breath taking innovations surrounding the transaction and discovery stage of a customers journey. However the fundamentals of retail remain as they’ve always been and that’s to satisfy the consumer. The technology is incredibly important but only when it benefits the customer.

Whereas 2000 years ago, when hungry we’d head out and do a bit of gathering or if you were up to it maybe a bit of hunting. 100 years ago, we’d head out to the local grocer, butcher or baker. 50 years ago we’d head to the local super market. Now we would in all probability pick up a device.
More often than not that device is most likely to be in our pockets. But here’s the rub, the start and end of the journey is pretty much unchanged from 50 or 100 years ago. Not sure? Well then check out this interesting bit of research presented in a handy quick view info-graphic from the nice people at Business 2 Consumer (B2C)
Like my last post it again underlines the fact that the physical is still very very important. So although the customer journey is now likely to take a circuitous route and involves a much more educated and informed individual the journey still starts with a need and finishes with a physical product. Just as surprisingly the consumer’s preference is to find the solution as close to home as possible, again just like 100 years ago. Back then it was because of transport considerations, in other words it was convenient. Well in 2017 it is still much more convenient to have the service or product fulfilled locally. It’s only when your customer cannot find the solution with you, or worse when it comes to those pesky screens cannot find you at all, that they move quickly on.
So how do you position yourself for retail success in 2017 with so much change and innovation? Our suggestion is you go back to basics and concentrate on the consumer and their journey. At COVA we have a very simple philosophy and that is the “Consumer is our North Star”. When we develop an approach or feature we simply ask does this benefit the customer? If the answer is yes then we go all in. If it’s no it gets binned. After all in our business if it doesn’t benefit the customer then it’s just a vanity, a piece of fluff and not worthy of our time and effort.
We think this is a simple criteria and one worth embedding in our culture. Because once we bought into this approach the road map became very clear. What does the customer want and how do we get it to them? When we answer those two simple questions with the customer at the centre, decisions become easier and more obvious.
The consumer habits have changed but the underlying motivation remains largely unchanged over the decades. As I outlined in my previous post the physical retailer still has many advantages over the pure play eCommerce retailers. But that shouldn’t mean you ignore the benefits having a digital presence can bring. The consumer now expects it from you. If you don’t offer it they’re off to a competitor who does. Let’s put it this way, you opened your shop due to the belief you’d get footfall in the chosen location. Well now you need to understand your customer is mobile in every way. It’s no longer just footfall it’s now about where your customers eye balls fall. The irony is that having that eCommerce presence is actually a driver of footfall. Grab the consumers screen time and reap the rewards not just online but in store too.
So if you keep your customer at the heart of what you do you’ll move to providing the solutions they demand in 2017. The consumer journey starts and finishes as it always did but the bit in between takes a little thought. It’s not difficult and the effort could see you grab your fair share of the projected $27 trillion retail sector in 2020. Hopefully there’s a little food for thought here. If there is and you’d like to discuss further give me a shout at
(Interesting that the hunter gatherer parlance still manages to influence our modern language as the homo sapiens skills have gone from hunting for food to hunting for bargains).
At we do an out of the box solution for retail aimed at the Suppliers and Retailers allowing for close co-operation benefiting all involved. You can be up and running in 5 minutes and punching way above your weight in the most cost effective way.

Make no mistake the future of retail is physical.

As an independent retailer you could be forgiven for thinking the game is up for the physical store. On a global scale we’re constantly bombarded with news and articles about how the retail world is changing. Indeed journalists seem to have their go to sources when they want to back this up. Amazon and Walmart get far more than their fair share of column inches especially as we get more and more of our statistics and data from US skewed sources. But guess what Global retail was worth a massive $22 Trillion dollars in 2016. The giants Amazon and Walmart accounted for 0.45% and 2.3% respectively. So the two giant US based retailers accounted for less than 3% of global retail.

And what might be a little surprising is the fact the physical retailer Walmart had five times the sales of the media darling Amazon. Now there’s no doubt Amazon is incredibly innovative and is not beyond flying the odd kite in an effort to remain at the very front of the consumer’s mind. But here’s the rub, at it’s core Amazon is a physical retailer. It differs from the Walmart’s and Tesco’s of the world in the manner in which it gets products in front of consumers but they do deal in real tangible product and in that regard they are very much physical.

They have brick and mortar fulfillment centres to house physical stock and use physical means of transport. Until Jeff finally announces his guys have perfected the teleportation device of the beam me up Scotty variety they still have many of the same issues of a traditional retailer regardless of size. 

In short Amazon are just another route to market for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of brands. They do bring many advantages to suppliers and brands and can leverage size and volume to deliver value and convenience to the consumer. But none of their core activities are patentable or not open to being copied. The reason they laud their speed of delivery is in part due to the fact they have to. Unlike a local brick and mortar store a consumer cannot simply just drop in and pick up an item on a whim or in an emergency. So Amazon’s answer is to get it to the consumer ASAP when needed. But in general outside of emergency situations who cannot wait a day or so for that new dress, box of Persil or those bangin’ new headphones. In fact Amazon are rather predictably in our view looking to navigate their way into the physical space for the reasons outlined above. Sometimes it’s just easier to drop into a store or have a place to drop off a return. For the retailer there’s the benefit of offering a replacement product there and then or better again up-selling and offering what Amazon really can’t a true impulse buying opportunity.

So where are we going with all of this? Well it’s to remind SME retailers they they too hold a lot of cards. At it’s core, retail is all about satisfying a consumers need. Getting a physical product out of a warehouse or off a shelf and into the hands of the consumer is what it’s all about. Whether the consumer starts their journey on a website or in a store the goal is the same. How do we get that product from point A to point B otherwise known as the consumers hands. As a retailer with a physical store you already have much of the hard work done. You have the relationships with the suppliers and the consumers. In the case of our target retailers they also have the means of fulfillment in-house. 

You have the ability to give the consumer more confidence than a eCommerce only retailer. That ability comes from having a physical location a consumer can have last resort to. You have the fulfillment centre already on tap and again that’s your physical store. You have local market knowledge and relationships again due to your presence in the community. All that’s left now is to leverage all of the advantages you have and connect them to the power of the web. You could get moving and connect the final piece of the jigsaw with eCommerce capabilities. But yet you haven’t done this. So what’s stopping you? Technology, resources, time, finances? Worried you’ll end up with an increased workload, almost like running another business. 

No longer acceptable excuses. Why? Because we can take on the heavy lifting. Leverage the power of your suppliers, automate all of your eCommerce sales, retain all the consumer and sales data involved. We tick all of those boxes and much more. Get in touch at and we can arrange a demo and show you how you can quite literally open up a whole new world of opportunities.

Independent retail is very well placed to become a force in eCommerce. It’s easier for you to become a multi-channel retailer than it is for say the Amazon’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 the larger chains. You have a level of exclusivity that the multiples don’t enjoy. Not everyone wants to look or be 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 why not do what you do when you have a plumbing or car issue. 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 www.  cost or technical knowledge is no longer a barrier to entry.


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.


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

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.


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.


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

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.



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.

big data

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.


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.