It’s easy to think the High street has limited days, but I assure it doesn’t, and those who react positively and start to do something about it now will be the ones that will be there at the beginning of a whole new and exciting high street. How can I make such a bold statement? It’s a combination of shopping experience, sales development experience, experience in running a business and having been brought up in retail.

How does Next survive where C&A didn’t? Could it be that they managed to place themselves alongside names like Ralph Lauren in the designer shopping outlets? By doing this they were clever. They are now often seen as the high street designer label and as they are affordable to the average shopper they seem to have a loyal customer following. As do many of the high street names such as Top Shop, Primark and River Island.

Amazon has taken the lion’s share of blame for the loss of Woolworths from our street. The convenience of shopping on line for those everyday items just couldn’t be beaten. Or could it? I’ll come back to this one.

Now our beloved department stores are fast leaving us. House of Fraser and Debenhams are two stores where I have spent my time and money. Yet both of which I had predicted as the next to go after we lost BHS (British Home Stores) I am one of House of Frasers loyal customers partly because they are the only store for 50 miles where I might be able to find the brands I love and partly because they are an all under one roof store with lots of choices. Or at least they were. I am basing this article both my own experience and on conversations I have had with other shoppers, and ex and current employees of the House of Fraser.

It seems to me that the customer has not been the priority for a long time now in this wonderful store. Instead they have placed their efforts on how to make a quick buck and try to fool the customer. They have tried to put themselves one step ahead of the customer and not in their shoes.

“It’s wise to be in the other persons shoes not one step ahead of them”

So here’s what I believe the leaders of these businesses should think about doing;

  1. LISTEN to your customers. Go back to true marketing actions and get out there to speak to your customers. Not just in the store or from on line surveys. Think about how many people just tick top marks for everything because it’s easier. Go to people who are socialising in the daytime and ask them if they started out shopping and where and why they would go. Find out who your customers are. There are many a time I have ended up in the pub because the CHOICES were disappointing.
  2. Don’t make CHOICES for your customer; let them make the choices for you. House of Fraser is a great example of a store who has tried to lead the customer to their own version of designer labels by pushing out the real designers. They have tried to follow the FMCG industry by replacing racks which once displayed real designer labels with their own labels hoping that the customer would simply try the brand, love it and then keep buying it. This works in supermarkets because people are there to buy food to survive and keep the family happy. The supermarket shopper will not go elsewhere just for one item, its too inconvenient. They go food shopping for convenience not to FEEL GREAT! Shopping for clothes and accessories has a whole different psychology to it and it’s about the feel good factor, the guilty pleasure and you have to respect the fact that they don’t need to get it and so if their brand isn’t there, they can survive till they find it.
  3. Make the customer FEEL GREAT. Be innovative beyond a personal shopper service. If you’re going to have a personal shopper services then make it more visible. Make your customers feel important through the old fashioned customer service that we miss today. Train, coach, and test your staff to represent you to the market place. Too many times I have been ignored by shop assistants, because they assume I’m not going to buy. Train, coach and encourage them to be more proactive sales people. I don’t want to walk into a store and listen to the staff having a conversation about the rotas. I once had a lady actually tell me that she would like to help me but she’s too busy! Yes gasp in horror because it’s true! The very life source of their ‘busy’ is now getting in the way! Combine this with technology that means shoppers can check stock, order items from the stock room to try on. Take pictures and post them to friends etc. etc. There is so much a store can do to for a better CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
  4. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE should be captured at every opportunity. What is each customer thinking as they browse and when they purchase. Train staff to be able to draw feedback from customers through general conversation. Supermarkets will have voice spies everywhere to capture this kind of feedback. I don’t particularly agree with the covert technology but certainly trained staff with whom customers feel comfortable to speak to would be a start. Suggestion boxes placed in or near café’s, toilets places where they will have time to think and provide more valuable feedback. Seek to understand what customers define as VALUE.
  5. VALUE is essential if you really want to rival designer brands in your store with your own label. Unfortunately House of Fraser has tried to sell its own much lesser quality brand for the same price as the designers. This is fine if your own label lives up to the price tag. I’m not convinced it does, and there is no one with whom we can associate the brand other than the store. Who is Label Lab and Therapy? Can you identify with them? I feel almost cheated of the opportunity to buy the brands that I used to go in to buy. Buying at the more top end should always come with an experience, because that is what the customer is buying along with the item. Sometimes the cloths actually never get worn, but buying them was great fun! We call it RETAIL THERAPY.
  6. RETAIL THERAPY - cheaper than therapy; I once saw this printed on a handbag. It’s so true yet why aren’t the big stores cashing in on phrases like this. It’s interesting to see how young fashion seems so far to be surviving over the department store. Yet one would think that it’s the young market that shops on line. So what happened there? Exploit the positive messages out there. Bring back the social in Social Media and put the high back at the centre of SOCIAL life.

Earlier I mentioned Amazon taking over from Woolworths. Internet vs High Street. Now I want to share with you why I believe the Internet is still rivalled by the high street and will continue to be so;

  1. Shopping is a SOCIAL past time for most of us who like to do it. I know not everyone is a fan but those people aren’t the target market here. The internet is not as fun as getting together with a friend to do a bit of shopping and dining. This is part of the whole experience. I can’t though remember the last time that I had an on line social shopping experience. I don’t invite friends round to shop on line. Instead one line shopping can be boring and STRESSFUL because it takes the fun right out of it.
  2. Too much to think about can be STRESSFUL. As much as might like to deny it, we are tactile creatures and we like to touch feel and try on and see what it looks like when its worn. If it’s a household item you can feel the texture, and the weight etc. I know weight is listed on the internet where relevant but really, how many of you can translate that into how it feels in hand? We love to pick things up and try them out even if it has nothing to do with testing its functionality. Colour might be great on the Mac computer screen where the photograph was originally uploaded but the screen where the item is being looked at might not be as clear or show in the same way. This creates UNSURITY.
  3. UNSURITY leads to over spending. This can actually be quite stressful for some people. Argh which to get. So much choice, do I keep looking or just buy. Will it fit me? Will it match? Oh I’ll have to buy them all and then choose. You are going to spend twice as much or more so you can chose one item. Can your credit card take it? Will you be able to stay ahead of the finances? This could all be because it’s not fun going into the store where you would normally get it, or because the store isn’t reliable anymore. Don’t’ forget to be in when the postman deliveries or you’re going to have to go and collect it the next working day!! Then you have to RETURN items.
  4. RETURNS are inconvenient to say the least. Yes they can pick up the package from your door, but they can’t say when. Leave it in a safe place, oh so now you have to buy or arrange a safe place. Take it to your local post office. Really could all of this have been avoided if I just knew that the store had it and I could just go there try it buy it, take it home, hang it up and be done!

So there is a lot of food for thought here and it all comes from my personal passion to keep the high street alive. Some of this can be used to promote the greatness of physical high street shopping and some to improve the high street shoppers experience. If combined I am confident that we can save our stores. In addition owners and chiefs need to start to think like a shopper not the bean counter. I’d really like to know how many chiefs are too busy running the business that they don’t have the time to go shopping with their families or friends. Shopping for me is a pleasure but the greatest part is that I learn from it!

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