Think small, think added value

Think small, think added value
“People don’t pass through the High Street as they used to, and don’t retailers know it – give them a reason to turn up.”

We spoke to 40 small retailers as part of our research for Autumn Fair (trade show for retailers) about what their challenges and recommendations are for 2017. Here’s a bite-sized summary of how they’re approaching the challenge of pushing back against those online retailers.

Thank you to those who shared their views with us, I hope it’s useful. Look out for ‘Online, no one can see you’re small’, and ‘Battling the big boys’ for more direct advice from your peers.

Sophy

Editor

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The advantage of being a big retail chain or website like Amazon is that you have the logistics down pat – and that’s about it. Not that anyone should be less than respectful of the scale at which those companies operate, but it means that their business is purely transactional. The smaller organisation is therefore in a good position to add value, through personalisation, through quirkiness and a number of other means.

We asked a number of retailers how they go about adding value and therefore differentiating.

  • Offer some old fashioned service. Are you a bookseller? Note what your regulars are enjoying reading, even offer them a book club if there are enough like minded people. Amazon and the online giants lack one thing: the ability to get people together. Make this one of your unique selling points.

  • Likewise people selling food and drink – tasting evenings, find out what your customers like and make them the odd recommendation.

  • Build in a “wow” factor, one respondent suggested. This needn’t be a massive event but it’s good to have some products that need to be handled and touched, like jewellery, or clothing that needs to be tried on. People don’t pass through the High Street as they used to, and don’t retailers know it – give them a reason to turn up.

  • One of our respondents said ”for the small independent retailers that are surviving and working, “they are working very hard to be successful – they are usually very active with event promotions in the local community.” This is unarguable – so how do you fit into your community? Are you a standalone shop, is there a noticeboard for community announcements?

  • A respondent visiting America noticed a number of stores with coffee tables or bars in the centre of the retail area. “This is the sort of experience that people need to be given in-store,” they said, although we’d urge caution; the cost structures including national living wage and business rates are not exactly the same in any two countries, so the fact that it works there may not translate seamlessly over here.

  • Try to get some product exclusives so that people have to come to you if they want them. The majors may come and take them off your hands eventually but by that time you’ll be onto another. Set aside some time to research what your customer actually wants and how to anticipate the next wave.

The electronic world only amplifies what’s been going on in the High Street for some time; someone pioneers a product, it sells for a premium through a few specialists, it goes mainstream and everyone else picks it (or an equivalent) up, and at the end nobody can shift them. The online world accelerates the process but it hasn’t changed. By keeping in touch with the customer, by knowing what they want and forecasting what they’re going to want, you can become the business the giants follow rather than the one they stamp out because it’s doing the same as them.

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