There is no doubt that having a retail business — large or small — can at times be a challenge. Perhaps that’s more so today than ever.
Why? Well, for starters: new competition, changing consumer habits, hard-to-predict retail trends, globalization, mature online competition and an inability to retain the right talent.
And while the forces of change are many, so too are the strategies business owners are employing: enticing new looks, new merchandise, new discounts, new menus, more convenient hours, new locations and, in some instances, selling the business. Larger retailers with greater resources can develop more efficient operations, marketing adjustments and restructures to keep business in the black.
Many retailers these days offer more online opportunities from homes and within stores but they are competing with mature competitors that are exclusively online, such as Amazon, Dell and Dynamism.com, which offers to a worldwide customer base electronics and gadgets. To find the right connection with potential customers that make online purchases, companies are changing their strategies to be more social media-friendly, using trial-and-error approaches and experimenting to keep pace with changing customer preferences.
Richard French, the owner of the successful The Works Bakery and Café in Keene, says he constantly checks new consumer trends and preferences and adjusts his menu to keep traffic flowing to his cafes in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. “If people want healthy salads we’ll offer new fresh ingredients that satisfy them.”
As an example of creating demand, Ted McGreer, owner of Ted’s Shoes in downtown Keene, has created and developed a new support insole based on his years of shoe experience and the advice from a team that includes a local podiatrist. “Buying the same shoes from the same suppliers will not sustain the business; we have to create new products.”
Toadstool Bookshop recently moved to downtown from a nearby location in the city. Also, new entrepreneurs are opening new businesses catering to new buyers. Tim Pipp is on Main Street offering customized T-shirts at Beeze Tees. Mason Parker is in Peterborough and has opened Parker House Coffee, with a breakfast and lunch menu.
Nationwide, retail trends include reconsidering the mantra location, location, location. Omnichannel retailers — those online, in social media, and in a few retail outlets — are having great success in retaining customers, according to the National Retail Federation.
Online shopping sites have to deal with the buyers who spend a lot of time searching the site, loading up their carts and never buying. The sites provide popup incentives to try to move the customer to a purchase. In a store, I’d hope a seasoned sales representative can spot a discriminating shopper and offer assistance to hone in on a specific product and make a sale.
Whether online or in a store, retail success demands creating a positive customer experience so that customers will return. Buying can be made more exciting when personalized and done smartly.
Analytics are a new and valuable resource in efforts to win and retain customers. They help business owners to guide customers closer to the right products based on collected data that reveal buying preferences, search patterns, and other telling profile information. It is an important — call it necessary — tool. Signals Analytics is an example of an innovative company working with large corporations to find evidence-based opportunities in the marketplace by integrating data about the market, key trends and customers.
Analytics haven’t replaced good intuition, but they have certainly broadened approaches.
The changing retail landscape is hard to predict. Door-step delivery by drone seems very likely. The astute business owner is watching trends, and thriving because of their own innovation, too.
Bob Vecchiotti is a business adviser and executive coach in Peterborough. His website is www.leadershipexpert.com