Retail is dead. A phrase I hear over and over again.
I was recently told by someone who has absolutely no place in telling me what to do, that although I was “bloody good at my job”, I need to get out of retail.
Once the cloud of anger settled over the cheek of this person telling me their unwanted and unvalued opinion, I thought about it. Not about quitting retail, it is, after all, all I’ve ever done. No, I got to thinking about the whole “retail is dead” thing.
Looking along the High Street, shopping centre and side streets of my local town centre, there are far less empty shop units than even just two years ago. More and more independent retailers, quirky little gift shops are popping up all over the place. True, some of them don’t last long, but is that down to retail dying or bad practise/ unrealistic goals from the business owner?
The question I want to pose in this blog post for you all to consider is this.!
Is retail dead, or has the high street consumer gotten lazy?
Now, the other day I walked past a shop in a quaint little shopping court in town. It was an independent gift shop, which has recently converted its upstairs space into a tea room. Outside, on a plaque on the wall, is the quote “Keep your shop, and your shop will keep you”. This quote could be about the shop owner. Just like you or I will “keep” our house, clean it, tidy it, stock its cupboards full to create a warm safe environment for our families, a shop owner needs to do the same at his shop, new stock, neatly displayed to entice customers to come spend their money and keep a roof over the shop keepers head. Or… it could be about YOU, the shopper. In a similar way to the quote “use it or lose it”.Shop there and they’ll be able to continue to supply you with the gifts and trinkets they have on offer.
The trouble is, these little shops rely on footfall coming through the city centre. Footfall at the moment, is considerably down. More and more people now shop online for goods they can find on their own High Street. They claim it’s more “convenient “, a phrase I will prove incorrect later. People forget what a shop can offer over and above a computer screen. Choosing to stay at home and shop in their PJs, they are missing out on the unique things their own town centre has on offer. These little unique shops can’t survive without customers. Most independent business owners work alone, seven days a week. They need you.
Don’t get me wrong, the internet is great for shopping. Personally I only use it for things I can’t get in town, personalised gifts, handmade goodies, online only companies. I don’t order anything that would be detrimental to my High Street
Trouble is, people are still brainwashed by the pressure selling culture of the late 90s. Truth is, when we say ” hello” to you in our store, and get a narky response of “I’m just looking”, we are infact, just saying Hello. The same way your computer screen says ” welcome back Sally” when you log into your account to go shopping. We are here to serve you. Find out what you want. We, essentially, are your personal search engine. It is our job. We will tell you far more politely than your husband at home when trying on your online purchases that yes madam, your bum does look big in that. We’ll also show you something to flatter your shape. We want you to look nice. The website has no opinion.
Every year we lose at least one major retailer from our High Streets. Recently we’ve seen the demise of BHS, and even Marks & Spencer have had to admit defeat and are in the process of closing down shops across the country. Whose fault is it? Its ours. The consumer.
Now let me set the scene for you.
This morning, you woke up to cold and heavy winds. You need to get a few bits of shopping but the thought of trapsing into town or waiting for a bus is unappealing. You fire up your laptop and find everything you need online. Most offering free delivery and free returns. You think you know your rights about shopping and returning items. You mainly shop from companies you know. Brands you’ve seen on the High Street, because they are familiar and you trust them.
Heres the reality from a High Street shops point of view. Its a cold and windy day. Your fingers are numb by the time you get to work. You don’t anticipate high sales today at your clothing store. You know people will stay at home. A target has been set by your head office based on takings last year and a percentage increase. A target you are expected to hit no matter the weather. Your initial thoughts were correct, not many shoppers around. Then someone comes in. You greet them with a warm hello. You find out they work full time and hardly have time to shop but came out early on a day off to get sorted then get back home. You ask what they are looking for. You recommend styles and colours to suit them. You treat them like they are the only person worthy of your time. You offer outstanding service and build an outfit perfect for them. They try on and are delighted with the shopping experience they’ve recieved. They make a confident, informed purchase, saving time and money getting it right first time. Chose a dress they wouldn’t of even thought of trying on by look alone, but the quality of the fabric and the fit was so perfect, they knew it was right for them. Job done correctly, sales assistant and customer happy. Within just twenty minutes, the lady had tried on six dresses in various styles and sizes and found the perfect one. The next person in has return. Dresses they ordered online. The fit wasn’t quite right and the colour looked different online. The money credited back to them comes off the shops days takings, completely wiping out the previous transaction. The shop closes its doors that day on a figure short of their target because of the web returns. Its disheartening. The dress returned from the internet is also available in store, and the lady that returned it, lived locally.
Most of you, especially if you have never worked in retail, probably thought “well, that’s the nature of the job. That’s what you get paid for.” Think again. My training includes customer service. It includes product knowledge. The only question regarding dealing with difficult customers I’ve ever been asked was in my interview.
Now here’s the story again, more in depth, but with an explanation as to why I accused the consumer of being “lazy”, whilst also trying to get my point across on the whole ” use it or lose it” issue.
Sally has got a wedding to go to in 3 weeks time. She works full time so finds it hard to find time to shop for an outfit. Its her day off today but its very cold. She doesn’t want to pay the £1 for parking either, its always £1 on a Sunday. An incentive put on by the local shopping centre to encourage people in. Anyway, she goes online. She goes to the website of a shop she’s seen in town. She’s bought a couple of things there before. Likes the clothes but knows the sizes vary a bit. After seeing three dresses she likes, she orders all three in two different sizes. SIx items. She only intends on keeping one, and her order comes to £240. As she knows there is a shop in town, she doesn’t bother to read the returns policy. Delivery is free and will arrive between 3 and 5 working days. On the fourth day, when the parcel is delivered, Sally is at work, in the town centre, less than five minutes from the shop that she’d ordered online from, and there is no one home to receive the parcel. She collects it from the post office sorting office two days later on her next day off, which is a very wet and windy day, and Sally gets soaked running across the car park. By the time Sally has the dresses, she has been to the town centre 3 times. Out of the three dresses, one looked a different colour and didnt match a jacket she had, she wasnt keen on the fabric of the second and the third is the one she likes the most. Two weeks later, she goes to the wedding, and gets lots of compliments on her dress. However, she notices when wearing the dress that the hem line is hanging ever so slightly lower on one side. Anyway, Sally read that she had 30 days to return unwanted items to the local shop. The following weekend, Sally takes the five unwanted garments, and the slightly faulty one that she wore, back to the local store, in the town centre where she works. As she’s at work at 10am, she gets to the store just after it opens at 9am. Its another wet and windy day. The sales assistant is serving someone else so Sally stands at the till looking at her watch, huffing and puffing, hoping this will hurry the tardy assistant up. The assistant says goodbye to her customer and greets Sally with a smile and a hello. After explaining the situation, she is offered an exchange or credit note on the unwanted items, as clearly stated in the returns policy online, but which Sally didn’t read because she “knows her rights”, and a refund or exchange on the faulty dress. Sally shouts at the staff for not being entitled to a full refund on all the items, even though the policy is clear on her paperwork. She could send it back to the online shop for a refund, but Sally doesn’t want to pay postage and doesn’t have the time. The post office is also in town. Sally then complains about the faulty dress. The staff are able to show her the exact same dress in store without a fault, but Sally doesn’t want to exchange it as she’s already been to the wedding, and the faulty dress ruined the day for her. Sally felt the need to point that out and be angry at the sales assistant, even though this is the first time shes dealt with her. When Sally eventually agrees to take the credit note for £200 and a refund for £40, after shouting some more at the staff who have had no chance to assist Sally in her purchase, she then asks if the credit note could be spent online. It can. Sally leaves with the credit note threatening to complain to head office. The store starts the day on minus £200 after only being open thirty minutes.
Next time Sally shopped online, she was unable to return the items to her local store because her local store had closed down. It wasn’t taking enough money to keep open. Sally complains to head office about the inconvenience of having to travel 20 miles to the next nearest store.
Had Sally paid £1 for parking that Sunday, she would’ve saved on petrol travelling to the post office which was a twenty minute journey away.
Had Sally visited the store on that cold but dry day, she wouldn’t of gotten soaked running to and from her car to the post office.
Had Sally bought the dress in store, she wouldnt of ended up with a faulty one in error.
Had Sally visited the shop, the trained sales assistant would’ve bought her a choice of different dresses for her to try on for size, feel the fabric and match up accessories in around 20 minutes, saving Sally the 40 minute round trip to the post office on one of her rare days off.
Had Sally shopped in store, four members of staff, who, for five days a week, braved the elements to get to work to help and assist ladies just like Sally, to find perfect outfits, would still have jobs.
Many shoppers would argue that the money all goes to the same company so why does it matter if they spend online or in store. The scenario outlined above is why it matters. Although extreme, it absolutely could, and does happen. I have been made redundant three times, only for the brand to continue successfully online. No business can afford to light, heat, power and staff a retail unit that makes no profit for them. If you don’t use the shops, they will disappear. If you love the brand, USE THE SHOPS. A customer like Sally would ultimately have saved time and money just going into store instead. Shops competing with their own online division are ultimately becoming return centres. You can find us to return stuff to, but not to make your initial purchase? Being the “face” of a company has it’s highs and lows. We have the elation of helping customers chose the right product for them, assisting them and advising them through the whole process and seeing them walk out of the store grateful for your help and happy with their purchases. Then you get shouted at. Generally by people you’ve had no dealing with yourself up until this point but they plant the blame firmly at your feet. These people are usually the ones that tell you their rights as a consumer. Tell you what they are “entitled”* to. They are right, you are wrong.
*It’s important to note here that shop staff are aware of the law. We’ve been taught it. We know, OK? We’re right and you, ” Sally”, are wrong. For example, did you know that you are not actually legally entitled to a refund if you have simply changed your mind on a purchase, and any company that does offer such refund does it as a goodwill gesture only, not because its the law? Or that if you return something without a valid, in date receipt I’m not legally obliged to do anything at all. If I offer a current till value exchange, its because I’m nice. I don’t HAVE to. And you won’t get a credit note from me, as that will take my days takings down and I have targets to hit. Remember, I don’t HAVE to do anything. Take it or leave it, but don’t shout at me about it!
Here’s one last story for you.
Kelly is a full time store manager. Five days a week, she is up just gone 7am to feed dogs, get son ready for school, wash and dress and get herself ready for work. On days like today, she can hear the rain beating against her window, the snooze button on the alarm gets hit two times more than usual. Kelly is never late. Ever. She gets to the shop, gets everything ready to open, then attempts to dry her hair and reapply her make up after the wind and the rain made her look like a stand in for The Joker. If she wasn’t at work today, she wouldn’t want to be out in this. However, Kelly loves her job. She loves helping people, loves seeing people happy, and loves the feeling when the customer is genuinely grateful for her help and advice. Its what she’s paid to do. Kelly pops to the toilet just before 9am as she is working on her own till 11.30am so won’t be able to go again. Looking at the weather, she fears it may be a long quiet morning. Shortly after opening, Kelly got to help a lady on a mission. She tried on several dresses and, with Kelly’s help, chose the perfect one. Everything Kelly loved about the job. As Kelly was processing the £40 sale, another lady, visably hassled, came and stood by the till. Kelly cheerily told her she wouldn’t be a moment but she was ignored. Instead the lady huffed and checked her watch.
After bidding goodbye to her customer, Kelly turned her attention to the other lady. Kelly listened politely as the lady explained about six dresses she’d bought online. Kelly professionally told the lady what she could do in store for her, but the lady didn’t like the answer so shouted quite aggressively at Kelly. Although calm, Kelly felt a little threatened as she was lone working. She ended up taking a return of £240 worth of stock leaving her on minus £200 within half an hour of being open. The lady left threatening to complain to head office. Kelly knows that Head Office can hide behind a phone or a computer monitor, or pass the complaint higher. Kelly couldn’t. The next day Kelly had a disheartening phonecall from her area manager because she missed target by £180. Kelly knew she had taken the money but the website return wiped it out. She goes home worried about her job stability.
So, retail is not dead. People will always need clothes, want technology, have babies. Its the traditional shopper that’s died, and they are the first people to moan when they walk down the High Street to rows of empty shops. Nothing beats the shopping experience. Get together with friends and discover the delights of your town centre again. You can have lunch, go for a coffee. Get all the bits you need, as well as some things you didn’t know you needed. Keep your High Street and your High Street will keep you.
I hear people say they shop online for “convenience”, however its not so convenient when what you’ve ordered online doesn’t look,feel or work the way you expected it to. All things you could see instantly if you had popped to your local store and made your purchase with them. It’s more convenient to take your faulty, too small, too short, too blue item back to the store to return it rather than post it back, stand in a queue, isn’t it? Why not start there?
Do yourself, and me, favour.