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Reflection on retail

This week our guest blogger is Briar Harland, whose command of marketing research and unrivalled ability to unearth business changing customer insights is legendary. Briar is master (mistress) of her own strategic direction at Pinstriped Leopard and provides her special blend of knowledge and skill for Hotfoot clients.

In today’s blog, Briar mourns the loss of an old friend.

I found it sad when a brand I considered one of the stalwarts of our retail landscape very recently went into receivership.

I had a huge affection for its former iteration, Rendells, and while I never really shopped at Postie Plus very often I kind of liked having it there in the background. It felt like an old friend.

And I guess therein lies the problem. Brands can’t survive when shopaholics like me love them but never visit them.

It’s a problem increasingly faced by brands that have been around for a while.

A generation ago a bit of history translated into being a safe bet, reliable, trustworthy and other adjectives that underline we believed in the offer.

Now it seems as if the pace of life and the constant change that surrounds us makes a bit of history seem unimportant. What counts is now, today, this moment. History is something that has no value, or worse, means that you seem ‘old fashioned’ rather than familiar. But even familiar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – with familiarity comes the ability to take something for granted – much like I took Postie Plus for granted without ever doing anything that might have stopped its decline – like actually buying something.

As I reflected on this it made me remember something Philip Slade said back in 2011 (ancient history by todays’ standards). He said that ‘Consumers are now shoppers at the point of interest, not a point of location’.

And therein is the crux of the matter. When shopping is possible when you’re in the mood, rather than in a place it makes the reason to visit the bricks and mortar establishment more important than ever. With Postie Plus I’d lost the reason to visit. It wasn’t of interest to me anymore. Whether that was my fault or theirs is moot.

If you pick up a newspaper these days you’ll see any number of articles talking about consumer confidence returning and the increase in spending happening again.

And talk to a random selection of retailers and some will agree – they see a return to the days of spend. Others however have yet to experience the bliss of the shopper in buy mode again, and many blame the increased prevalence of off shore purchasing via the Internet as the death knell to retailing as we know it in New Zealand.

While it’s easy to feel the angst of the retailers, it’s also hard not to observe a few of them refuse to embrace a different model, and there’s an old saying (but a good one) that suggests its silly to continue to do the same thing and expect to get a different result. It’s also painfully obvious that some retailers are actively resisting a digital sales channel – hoping that the lack of presence will drive people to their stores. Worse, some put up a clunky, difficult and spectacularly unattractive website as a nod to online retailing – which is almost worse than not doing anything at all. While some are adapting on the fly, others seem to be holding out for a return to ludditeism. Good luck with that.

Sure – there’s always the counter to the digital causing retail demise argument – as we buy more online then our expeditions into the ‘real’ world of shopping will hold more meaning, but if digital takes over the transactional and bricks and mortar maintain the experiential the first will take the lion’s share of consumer spending and the latter the discretionary spend. And most retailers simply can’t afford to have fewer customers spending less often, no matter how much that discretionary spend adds up to be.

All of this seems to add up to one obvious conclusion - if retailers don’t embrace the notion of creating a relevant, engaging and motivating experience for shoppers as part of their day to day operations then I can only assume that more establishments will become part of my memories rather than part of my repertoire.

The notion of ‘it we build it they will come’ is now only partially true. Our choices are profound. The world is our shopping mall.

So I hope, I really do, that more retailers embrace the idea of creating meaningful experiences for shoppers. While product and price will always rule the wrapping around them has never been more important.

I don’t want to lose any more old friends if I can help it.

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