This week, a report from the Ernst & Young ITEM Club suggested that retailers face a tough ten years.
The report pointed to high inflation and low wage growth as factors that could keep retail sales growth subdued for as much as a decade.
But tough times also present opportunities for retailers. If you are both strategic and creative, and you take some time to develop a comprehensive strategy for growth, you can help to maximise your chances of success during this difficult period.
Give great service
Customer service is one of the most important ways in which you can differentiate your business from its competitors. By considering ways that you can provide a great customer experience, you can help to build loyalty – and ensure that you do not have to compete solely on price.
Train your staff
Customer satisfaction begins with good staff training. You should make sure that your staff have all the knowledge and expertise necessary to give your customers the help they require. Additionally, you may want to consider training your staff in up-selling and cross-selling – while making sure that the customer never feels unduly pressured into making a purchase.
Online sales have, over the past few months, consistently performed far better than their in-store equivalent. The internet provides retailers with a valuable opportunity to expand their customer base, and is a potentially important new sales channel. Look out for a guide to selling online on Simply Business soon.
Think about 'shop geography'
You should think carefully about the customer’s journey through your shop, and the placement of individual products. For example, if you are a food retailer you might consider placing ‘every-day’ products like milk and bread near the back of the shop, while placing short-term offers near the doors in order to entice customers in.
While no-one enjoys getting complaints, they can have their upsides. Complaints provide you with a unique and valuable chance to understand what customers really think about your business, what you are doing wrong, and how you can improve. You should develop a set process for dealing with customer complaints that enables you to resolve problems quickly, and improve your practices in order to avoid making the same mistake again.
Don't skimp on marketing
In tough economic times, it is common for businesses to cut back on their marketing activities. But this can be disastrous. Instead of retreating, you need to make sure that your business stands out from the competition. You need to fight harder for every pound spent on the High Street – and you cannot hope to do that unless you have an effective marketing strategy.
Price will continue to be one of the most important factors affecting consumers’ purchasing decisions. You need to recognise this, and consider ways that your business can price its products intelligently. This is likely to require you to do things like research your competitors’ pricing, and consider whether you are willing to offer loss-leading deals.
Appearance matters. Customers are more likely to choose you over your competitors if you make sure that your premises (or your website) are looking their best. You should also consider rotating your window displays or, where relevant, having employees offer free samples outside your shop.
Keep a slush fund
Finally, it is important to note that the road ahead could well be bumpy. You should make sure that you are financially capable of dealing with unexpected circumstances or expenses – and this will probably involve keeping a ‘slush fund’. Additionally, you should make sure that you are properly insured in order to help protect your business’s financial stability.