The battle will be won on the shop floor
No matter how much and how quickly digital commerce evolves in the future, brick and mortar retail will not disappear. The world has been rocked in recent years by thousands of brick and mortar retail stores closing. In sharp contrast, many online retailers such as Amazon have been opening physical stores like their bookstores.
Other international brands following in this direction include Bonobos, UNTUCKit, and BaubleBar. Online commerce gravitating to the inclusion of brick and mortar retail has happened locally as well, with Yuppiechef leading the way. The brand now has a total of six physical stores around the country. The motivation for this move from its founders, Andrew Smith and Shane Dryden, was the realisation that physical stores would give the group access to a bigger market beyond just online.
As much as digital retailing is set to grow, human beings still like to touch, try and feel in order to decide on their purchase. Interaction and in-store experience are vital, but possibly the most crucial factor is understanding the customer and their needs as well as providing the highest possible level of service. This is not possible if one is confined to a desk at head office. No matter how much intelligent data a brand may have at their fingertips, understanding consumers and their needs will only be found by actively engaging with them on a person-to-person basis.
When “super-retailer” Steve Ross took over as CEO of Edcon in 1998, he spent weeks in-store understanding the landscape, the customers and the physical attributes of the stores. He continued this practice throughout his tenure and insisted that all staff at head office did the same. Rumour has it that, if he walked past a store and noticed that there were lightbulbs out, he would issue written warnings to the store management. As harsh as this may sound, having a grasp of the smallest details can only benefit the larger picture.
The above approach needs to once again become standard practice for all head office management involved in retail brands. It is time to get out of the office and go down onto the shop floor, with the intention of understanding every dynamic which is involved, first-hand. Face to face service seems to be one of the most significant issues facing South African retail. You simply must go online to the social media channels to see how the complaints heavily outweigh the compliments. Staff need ongoing training, mentorship and monitoring, and it is not good enough merely to rely on area managers, who are generally the link between the store and head office.
Store staff need to become experts at rapport building, interpersonal communication and skills, whilst also realising that excellent product knowledge is always essential. However, in today’s digital era, most customers will have researched what they want before even setting foot into the store (therefore, detailed product knowledge is vital in speciality stores).
The bottom line as to whether the bricks and mortar retail battle will be won or lost is in the hands of the actual brick and mortar store. The mindset of senior management must change. From the CEO downwards, a hands-on approach needs to be adopted. Just imagine how much money could be saved on head office real estate if all departments, normally housed at head office, were allocated individual stores from which to work? This is obviously very difficult for large retailers to try to implement, but something every growing business should take into consideration.
Bricks and mortar is here to stay – adapt or die.