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Keep It Simple

I saw a recent TV report about how traditional bricks and mortar stores had had a difficult Christmas for sales. It said that online businesses had significantly outperformed their more traditional counterparts. The report featured the obligatory retail analyst to shed expert light on the problem and she spoke knowledgeably about the changes that were taking place in our shopping habits. I also learned a new word, ‘showrooming’ to describe what can’t possibly be a new phenomenon: – the act of going to a traditional store to see, touch, feel, and often try on the item before ordering it online, often from the customer’s smart phone before they left the showroom.

Clearly our shopping habits are changing and we can speculate about all of the reasons why, but I was shocked at my own personal experience later that day at a couple of international brands’ flagship stores in our capital city.

In one purveyor of expensive notebooks and leather accessories I must have looked at 10 items, none of which had a price visible. At one point I asked an assistant whether these items were free, as they didn’t carry a price tag. He couldn’t find a price either and had to scan it to find out what it should be. On the way out I saw someone who appeared to be the manager and asked him why I couldn’t see the prices on any of the expensive leather cases that had caught my eye. “Oh”, he said. “It should be in here” taking the display item from the rack, unzipping each of the many compartments and ferreting about among the display padding to eventually recover a random piece of card that happened to carry a price. I couldn’t help observing that this was a queer way to run a retail establishment.

We crossed the pavement to the flagship store of the world’s most successful tech companies as I wanted to replace the computer I am writing this on, a business renowned for getting their service delivery absolutely right. I found the store to be full, and busy. I wanted to compare three versions of the same model, for weight, memory and usability. I knew from previous visits that each table was arrayed with the range of similar products, be that phones, watches or computers from there the experience went downhill rapidly. There was no way to identify which table was the one I wanted, other than trailing around them all. There were no signs.

When we found the appropriate table that’s all there was, a table strewn with computers. I expected to be able to compare models, but there was nothing to tell me which model was which, or how much each cost, or weighed, or indeed what the specification was. I thought that I should check the screen. They surely would be programmed to display the information I needed to make a purchase decision. That’s how they do it these days. But no, thwarted again. The store was full and I sense most people had come in to have a play and every machine I looked at seemed to have been put to that purpose.

I didn’t need selling on the brand I just needed some basic information to be able to make a decision between models, so I thought I would look for an assistant. I gave up after 5 or 6 minutes. Strangely the security men were more visible than the assistants, who seem to have changed the colour of their T shirts (to be less accessible perhaps). I left without being able to buy. It seemed the store was successful in attracting people but it seems to have lost it in terms of being a place to buy the product.

Now this isn’t just a rant about a frustrating day in retail land. Retailing successfully is a result of a combination of very specific and significant skills and processes. Attention to detail is high on that list. A fundamental ability to present the goods for sale in an attractive, engaging and useful way is a starting point and the golden rule of selling anything is to make it easy for the customer to buy, there are enough barriers without creating our own.

I thought it ironic that these two famous retail brands appeared to have forgotten the basics. Incidentally I tried the number two tech store of the same brand in Regent Street later in the day and couldn’t shop there either, for the same reasons.

The lesson of this blog then, is simply to suggest you check, how easy is it for your customers to buy from you? Often in our love affair with technology, in our rapidly changing world and in our efforts to do the trendy, fashionable and sexy high level stuff, we fail to do the basics. We fail to keep it simple and miss the point that we are simply there to help people to buy in whatever medium or in whatever way we choose to operate our business.