Retail Focus: Bronze at best for London’s retail offer

So the Olympics are finally here, and I sincerely hope that not too many of London’s visitors have been as disappointed as I have with the standard of many of London’s stores.

Around the country, VM teams have been doing an admirable job – putting the gloss on for London’s big shining moment. But I don’t think the same could be said of the rest of the retail team in some stores that I have visited in the run up to and during The Games.

I’ll give you an example. In the café of one famous name store (not my style to name and shame as you know), I requested that a badly chipped and stained teapot be replaced. The assistant duly changed it (after giving me a derisory look), but then put the same chipped item back in to the service area for cleaning and another customer to use. In the same store the toilets were defective and two escalators were out of order too, giving me a fair old hunt for and eventual walk up the stairs. Service with a smile, I think not!

Sadly, this phenomenon does not appear restricted just to cracked crockery and leaking loos. Am I the only one to notice instances of defective decoration, crusty carpets and hazard tape being attached to anything from lifting lino to failing fixtures in London stores right now?

This is a time for raising the bar in retail delivery. For the most part, VM and marketing teams appear to ‘get it’, and are doing what they can to put their best foot forward to make stores more attractive, engaging and profitable.

However, successful brand delivery is about a shared responsibility, integrating all aspects of the customer experience to be the best it can be. As such, the retail operations and estates teams should also be raising their game to help deliver the best possible brand experience too. The Olympics should be a showcase of the best UK retail has to offer, not time to make do and mend, with essential maintenance and repair issues being overlooked.

I appreciate this must be one of the busiest of times for retailers, and especially those London stores who are expecting a big hike in shopper numbers. But along with inspirational VM and display installations, shouldn’t shoppers be expecting and experiencing great retail standards and operational effectiveness too?

Shoppers should insist on housekeeping that meets – no, exceeds – their expectations and service that doesn’t just deliver, but leaves them with a positive lasting impression. Frankly, there are retail managers that need to get out of their offices and onto the shop floor to take a good look at their stores, as this is their time to shine too.

It’s true there can be significant costs involved in getting (and keeping) stores up-to-speed, with their facilities and services working, maintained and in good repair. But as a major national retailer or major global brand, you simply can’t afford to let these things slide.

Whether your customers are visiting from Melbourne in Derbyshire or Melbourne, Australia, the question regarding these important matters should not be “can we afford to?” but “can we afford NOT to?”. With many retailers hard pressed, the decision of where and how to invest anything in their retail estates will not be taken lightly, but here thinking like a customer can help. Things should work, should not be broken or take forever to repair or replace if they do!

Great brand delivery is about delivering positive consumer engagement in all aspects of the shopping experience. Customers are savvy these days and not afraid to vote with their feet. Whilst they may struggle to articulate the finer points of when a store does not look its best, they will know, and often say, when the basics aren’t right. Over time, problems which persist or magnify will create doubt in the customer’s mind, causing them to question the brand price / value / service / quality equation. In the worst examples, this leads to a rapid downhill spiral of failing consumer confidence, lost revenue and an overall decline in brand performance.

Tesco has just woken up to this issue and is currently investing a billion pounds in its UK store estate to address a backlog of maintenance issues, a decline in store standards and to upgrade to its ageing stores to shore up customer perceptions and reverse a decline in sales.

At an international level, Chicago is leading the way with an impressive big picture example of civic ‘housekeeping’ projects. The Mayor is investing huge sums into local infrastucture and city services – improvements to highways, landscaping parks and gardens, cleaning rivers and investing in better public transport. Essentially, a programme that’s intended to make Chicago a better place to live, work, play and spend more money. But as well as creating local jobs and growth for businesses, the Mayor is trying to create a sense of ‘feel good’, to attract more city dwellers and visitors to ‘his’ city over any other American destination.

Great VM works by attracting consumers instore and makes products easy and enjoyable to buy. Marketing incentivises customers to spend, and effective retail operations should seal the deal with great customer service and facilities – it is where the brand promise is held firm.

So in my ‘Retail Olympics’ I’m awarding Gold to the creative teams who are winning the day. Marketing teams are awarded Silver for their sterling efforts with imaginative advertising and sales promotions to drive people instore, but it’s a disappointing ‘must try harder’ Bronze for retail support teams that failed to notice what it takes to take a brand cross the winning line.

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Retail Focus: Still time to realise Olympic retail dreams

There are now less than 200 days to go before the start of the world’s greatest sporting celebration. Taking aside those who continually bemoan the coming of the games and their associated media hype, congestion, queues, and blanket TV coverage (I could go on), I think the UK should consider itself very lucky to be hosting them at this time.

Being awarded the hosting for the 2012 Olympics was one of the key successes of the Blair government. As such, there are countless reasons why we should ALL celebrate the Olympics coming to London. However, my loudest cheer will not come from the gold medals that British athletes pick up, but the gold and silver the games will hopefully bring to the nation’s hard pressed shopkeepers.

For months we’ve been hearing how ‘economic growth’ is what’s missing, yet vital for reviving beleaguered western economies affected by the global recession. As such, any boost to growth should be welcomed with open arms.  And growth opportunities as big as the Olympics don’t come around to any single nation very often. This event could be the catalyst to help the UK return to better times.

Businesses everywhere (and not just those in and around London, but countrywide), should seize this once in a generation opportunity to make money and share in the success of the games. And for retailers that have not yet developed their plans, there’s still time, but the clock is ticking.

Many, but not all, of our own clients already have detailed plans in hand. For me, there can be no room for complacency, and certainly little sympathy for those who do not rise to the challenge, only to complain when they have not reaped their own fair share of rewards after the closing ceremony and visitors have returned home.

For brands this means having a clear, bold and integrated marketing plan to maximise opportunities from the whole event. Plan instore activities to start well in advance, building to a crescendo during the games and lasting for up to six weeks afterwards, as some visitors will extend their time to enjoy holidays in the UK.

Retailers should look for creative ways to promote related themes, such as featured sports, British sporting heroes and British heritage – themes that tell stories to hook shopper interest. They should develop a raft of innovative promotional activity, offers and give-aways that involve shoppers, encourage spending and repeat visits – above all they need ideas to attract, engage and reward shoppers that combine sporting action with retail therapy! If ever there was a great time to test out innovative ‘retailtainment’ activities, to create an Olympic feeling instore, this is it!

However, retailers must take care to avoid contravening strict rules on the use of Olympic imagery, trademarks and terminology, details which the International Olympic Committee strictly enforce. Those companies who are referred to as Official Sponsors really are, and they’ve paid big bucks for the privilege!

It’s essential to think about maximising effective store operations too. The frequency of layout and merchandising updates should be increased, and plans should be made for extra VM and display changes, whilst adopting a relentless focus on replenishment activities and great service. They need to expect more and frequent customers and maximise every potential sale.

Retailers should gear up to maintain high retail standards, if stores show adverse signs of pressure, sales will likely be lost. Simple practicalities should be checked such as stocks of carrier bags, so key supplies and sundries don’t run short! Stores should revise staff rotas around the games schedule to reflect anticipated shopper traffic as congested fitting rooms, a lack of staff service and long queues at the tills will also damage sales. Overall, retailers should review their operational plans for the games from a customer perspective and plan accordingly, assuming there will be times when the store is in overdrive, and key times to recover when everyone is “watching the box”.

I strongly believe that collectively, UK retailers will rise to the challenge. Retail participation in last year’s Royal Wedding was very positive, with shops up and down the land recognising the day with patriotic window displays, flags and bunting, and pictures of the happy couple beaming out instore. And here, lest we forget, her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee event will provide another welcome footfall boost in June from increased royal tourism and bank holiday leisure shoppers.

Amongst all the gloom at this time, there really is much to be hopeful about. But hope alone will not bring success.

The retail winners from the Olympics, like the athletes themselves, will be the brands and businesses that have put in time, effort and energy into making their dreams a reality. I wish the very best to all those taking part on the track and on the high street!

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