I can’t help but feel sorry for high street retailers. They were already struggling and then Coronavirus came along and kicked them whilst they were down. Some will find it hard to recover – especially ones who seem to be making strategic decisions that do little to help their cause.
At the moment, it’s even more important that high street brands have a compelling reason why customers should go to their store and buy items that can often be purchased cheaper online. It’s equally important that high street stores keep up with the expectations of shoppers in 2020 and beyond.
Something I’ve encountered recently is where a number of high street stores, who are all part of the same group, have inconsistent and constantly fluctuating pricing. It’s as if some bright spark at head office has come up with the strategy to run short-duration sales that alternate between their stores – the hope being that unwitting customers will just buy from whatever store they are in at the time. That will sometimes happen too, but it’s a risky strategy with little future. To the consumer, this type of pricing shenanigans just comes across as plain dodgy. This is 2020 and savvy consumers are wise to such tactics – they are willing to dig around for the best prices, trawl through reviews and are hungry to spread the dirt on social media if they have a bad experience with a store.
I recently ordered from one of the stores referred to above, after painstakingly tracking down the best price. However, I then tried to cancel my order an hour later (for a genuine reason) by contacting customer service. I didn’t receive a reply until two days after I had received the item I was trying to cancel. Oh dear. Their belated customer service reply said “…once an order is placed it cannot be cancelled”. I found this quite surprising considering the order confirmation stated the item would be with me in 7-10 days, leaving plenty of time to cancel before despatch. It left me wondering whether they simply had a dinosaur ordering/fulfilment system, or worse, that this was a desperate tactic to make customers, who would have otherwise cancelled the order, decide to keep it rather than go through the hassle of sending it back. Either way, it’s not good. Of course there are many products/services that cannot be amended/cancelled once ordered, but I’m not referring to those here.
Understandably, some retailers have been taking longer to reply to customer enquiries due to lockdown, but not all stores have been struggling equally. In fact, some retailers don’t appear to have been struggling at all. High street brands are competing with online stores who have maintained fast customer service and free, fast delivery throughout lockdown. Many online retailers also allow you to log in and change/cancel an order before it’s dispatched. That kind of thing is going to become the norm in retail and everyone playing in this sector needs to keep up, or they need a really good reason why they can’t. Some of these high street stores simply don’t have a good enough reason. Whatever reasoning they come out with clearly doesn’t wash any more with consumers – if it did they wouldn’t be struggling.
Of course, there are many high street stores that are keeping up with the changing face of retail, coping well with the challenges we have all faced this year and will recover from lockdown as a result. It’s just so frustrating to see some brands failing to implement the changes necessary to keep up with retail, irrespective of lockdown.
What’s the solution for the high street retailers? Well that’s the million dollar question, but it starts with them being clued up on, and keeping up with, the expectations of shoppers nowadays. These expectations are, in large, being driven by the big online retailers. If a high street brand wants to keep its high street stores operating profitably then it needs a genuine, compelling reason for shoppers to go there. If that reason means their goods are a little more expensive, then that’s fine – but they must push that reason in their branding, marketing and ad campaigns. If they also sell online they need to compete with the online retailers in terms of pricing, customer service and fulfilment – amongst other things. The old thinking needs to change. “We have higher overheads, so we need to charge more…” isn’t good enough.