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Success In Retail Today: Changes, Challenges and Choices
by Debbie Allen, CSP

Changes, Challenges and Choices In Retail Today With the growing competition both on and off the web today it is becoming increasingly more difficult for retailers to survive in the new economy. A new revolution is taking place. And for retailers to thrive today, they must have revolutionary thinking. This type of thinking involves a desire to embrace change within their organization. Changes include a more focused approach to strategic planning, advanced marketing skills, a stronger customer focus and enhanced exposure on the World Wide Web.

The Internet has opened a new world of opportunities for retailers. It offers a way to grow an existing retail business and increase exposure to that marketplace. Retailers of any size can appear even more successful on the Internet with an effective service and sell site. The Web also offers a way for retailers to fill the gaps of their brick and mortar stores by offering more service online for their existing customers.

The Internet offers endless e-commerce opportunities to grow an existing business on the Web. By the end of 2000, sales on the Worldwide Web reached nearly 7 billion annually. To keep up with the growing trend, retailers’ websites must be updated frequently to reflect new merchandise and special offers.

Retailers must also learn new marketing skills to compete on the Internet. Marketing on the Web is much different than in a brick and mortar location. Information is the key element in successful Internet marketing. Retailers must offer invaluable information and build a strong trust with the viewer before they will feel comfortable going to the order form and purchasing online. Navigation is also extremely important for a site to be effective. Viewers must be able to find what they are looking for within three easy clicks. If not, they will quickly become frustrated and leave that site forever.

If a retailer’s mailing list or database is golden, then a database with e-mail addresses is platinum. Enlightened retailers today have already begun to ask for their customers’ e-mail addresses and buying preferences so that they can communicate with the customers on-line. This will be their opportunity to draw those customers into the stores for specials that will appeal specifically to them. Connecting with customers on the Internet will save thousands of marketing dollars by using e-mail as another form of direct mail to a customer base. E-mail is direct mail without printing or stamps. A message can be sent instantly to thousands of prospective customers with one simple click of the mouse.

The Internet has given the consumer the option to separate shopping from buying. People used to shop to buy; now shopping will be part of entertainment, but buying will take place where and when it’s convenient for the customer. Retailers need to create the opportunity for their customers shop and buy on-line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Customers Are The Driving Force In Change
With two-income families, busier schedules and less time to shop retailers must also offer more convenience than ever before. Everyone is multi-tasking today as if it were some new learned skill. It is becoming harder for people to find time to shop in a leisurely manner. Excellent customer service of the 21st Century is all about offering more convenience and education to customers. Customers will continue to shop where it is most convenient to their needs and lifestyles.

Retailers may want to offer added convenience by extending their hours of operation, improving their website purchasing or by speeding up check out lines. When a customer is standing in a check out line, the power of the purchase tends to shift in the customer’s favor. They may quickly decide to put an item down and leave the store without making a purchase.

What are you doing to offer more convenience to your customers? Be a problem solver and meet the needs of your target market.

Since customers today have more opportunities to buy, they are the driving force in the changes that are taking place in retail. Customers also communicate and do business differently today. Therefore, retailers must use all means possible to get their attention, from snail mail to e-mail. Marketing efforts must be adjusted to fit the needs of the changing customer base for future growth.

A stronger customer focus is becoming increasingly important to succeed in retail today. Rediscovering the changing customer base is crucial to effectively target-market to that customer. A one-size-fits-all sale no longer works in the 21st Century. Retailers must learn how to sell with diversity to multiple generations and genders differently. This investment in customers will yield more sales and greater loyalty.

Retailers must encourage their sales people to get more personal with the customer by spending more time listening and tuning into each customer as an individual. Smaller retailers can get to know their customers by name and learn more about their families and personal interests to make stronger one-on-one connections. Larger or corporate retailers may offer shopper-friendly terminals that will help consumers locate what they’re looking for without searching for the disappearing sales help. User-friendly kiosks will offer to self-serve customers. Customers are beginning to understand that in the larger stores they must become use to servicing themselves to save time, especially during busy shopping seasons.

Retailers must understand that they are selling more than merchandise; they are offering a shopping experience. This experience may offer the opportunity to learn or socialize or to be entertained, but it will definitely be more than a simple store purchase.

Retailing today is not just about buying. It is about stimulating the senses and taking people on an adventure.

Re-evaluating Your Marketing Plan
Along with the growing competition, both on and off the Web, advertising prices will continue to rise. Retailers will stand out as leaders and authorities in their market by adjusting their advertising to focus on the benefits of a changing customer base. Mass advertising has become less effective as many retailers advertise from just one sale to the next. The word SALE has been overused and is becoming a less effective vehicle to drive traffic into retail stores today.

Even corporate discount merchants have discovered the need for a more upscale image to reach a larger customer base. For example, Target a worldwide mass discount retailer, has learned how to effectively use a more upscale image to build a strong branded image with their customers. It is amazing what they have done with a simple circle and a dot for their branded logo image. Because of this they have moved ahead in their competitive arena.

Generic advertising is becoming less and less effective to stand out from the crowd, building a strong public relations campaign has become a more effective way to get attention for many retailers. Public relations is often perceived as a stronger approach and in some cases an even less expensive one. Retailers may become known as the expert in their niche industry by writing articles for local or international publications. They may focus on getting interviewed on radio and TV. Once they are quoted, they instantly perceived as the expert within their retail niche. The added exposure and expertise may dramatically increase business growth and profits.

A stronger focus on building a branded professional image in the community is becoming increasingly important. Retailers may do so by joining community organizations and by networking to guarantee their success. Business organizations and new business associates can become a strong focus group, a referral source and may also build a mentoring relationship.

Never underestimate the power of marketing. Translate the passion for your business into your marketing. Put YOU into your advertising – not ME.

Advanced Education For Retailers Is Critical For Growth Innovative retailers have discovered that to improve and adjust to changes quickly within their environment, they must continue to learn and become cutting-edge to move ahead of their competition. Retailers no longer have the luxury of just working IN their business day to day. They must begin to work ON their businesses by getting out and seeking opportunities for growth.

Attending seminars, meeting other retailers, and learning from both will add the competitive edge that retailers must have today.

The schoolroom door is always open - step on in.

Business in changing so rapidly that smart retailers are now learning as much within one year as they had in the past five years all together. As this trend continues, innovative retailers on the move toward future growth are attending more focused retail seminars and workshops to keep on top of the latest marketing trends, sales skills, and new business strategies within the changing industry.

Staying Ahead Of The Competition With A Brand
Retailers, small and large, must build a strong brand identity and catch praise that makes their business stand out from the competition? The number-one reason people buy from a specific business is because they feel confident about a particular product or service. People come to trust a brand and they buy based upon that trust. Strong branded logos and catch praises must appear on all marketing materials in a consistent manner. Most marketing fails because it either fails to stand out from the competition or the merchant quits before the marketing efforts have time to take hold.

Strong Visual Recognition
Retailers today must take on a new focus to be successful since visual marketing has become increasingly important to drive more sales. Seventy to eighty percent of the decision to buy in mass retailers today is made at point of purchase. Average sales may be increased as much as 244% with the use of strong visual graphics and effective displays at point of purchase.

Therefore it is extremely important for retailers to learn how to focus on their customers’ needs and begin to see their businesses through new eyes - their customers’ eyes. To build an effective business image, retailers must be aware of all the details that make up an overall consistent and effective image. In a matter of seconds, prospective customers begin to scrutinize every detail of a business, from a retailer’s business card, displays, employees or directly on their website. A business image is always visible. Smart retailers will make a great impression with every detail, from their point of purchase to the smiles on their employee’s faces.

The Workplace Challenge
Employees will be even more difficult to come by, as information technology and other higher-paying professions lure applicants who would have taken retail positions. Retailers will counter by hiring more part-timers and being more flexible with hours, or by choosing to pay a lot more. Retailers may foresee this challenge by offering more continued education, greater appreciation and motivation for their employees. Regular manager and sales staff meetings are necessary to build a strong relationship. Retailers should accept impute from their employees and encourage them to have independent thinking.

Planning for success
The retailing world of tomorrow will be very different from today. To survive in retail you must begin to plan for the evolution and shifts in the industry. To become successful you must first have a strong marketing plan and revolutionary thinking.

Strategic planning, which is a combination of strategic thinking and long-range planning, is key to planning for success. It can be a retailer’s blueprint to achieving the goals and plans for future growth. In addition, strategic planning can increase the focus on marketing approach and also help to build a supportive team of employees.

Bio: Debbie Allen is one of the world’s leading authorities on sales and marketing. She is the author of five books including Confessions of Shameless Self Promoters and Skyrocketing Sales. Debbie has helped thousands of people around the world attract customers like crazy with her innovative, no-cost marketing strategies and secrets to sales success. Her expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Selling Power and Sales & Marketing Excellence.

Copyright Debbie Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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