Unique products and great service will always be valued by shoppers, says Jacqueline Gold.

Unique products and great service will always be valued by shoppers, says Jacqueline Gold.

Merry Christmas? Happy New Year? Hopefully Mrs Santa came down your chimney, Auntie Doris loved her vajazzle kit and more importantly, your Christmas trading was like Little Mix’s run on The X Factor: better than anyone expected.

Despite the bounce from the no snow like-for-likes, I know trading was still tough. The age of austerity has not only taken cash out of our customer’s purse but it’s also focused her mind on extracting value from every purchase.

Everyone’s searching voucher code websites or comparing prices online and this will only get worse as the number of apps that tell you who’s the cheapest increases.

You’ve got to love the irony of the Asda iPhone app that checks whether your shopping is 10% cheaper than anywhere else. That’s the £500 smartphone to see if you’ve saved 3p on their Smart Priced baked beans. Wherever you shop you can probably save a few quid but it’s a soul-sapping experience.

As far as I can see there are only three ways round this for us retailers. The first is to become Amazon: do it all online and guarantee to beat everyone on price for the top 100 things in every category. Unfortunately, Amazon is rather good at being Amazon. Putting price and its outstanding delivery and payment options aside, Amazon’s new wish list that holds products from other websites on its site is, quite frankly, brilliant.

Option two is the route that works for us: sell unique and exclusive products. If you get your product development right, not only should the margin you create insulate you from the bitterest of retail recessions, but you’ll also have created hundreds and thousands of unique reasons for your customers to visit your store.

I can only imagine how tough it’s been for HMV on the high street: battered by downloads and streaming (illegal and otherwise), beaten up by Amazon and the big grocers and without a unique range of note to defend itself.

The third retail strategy to escape the drudgery of price comparison is to be so nice that customers actually enjoy paying a little bit more. I know John Lewis is never knowingly undersold, but I wouldn’t mind if it was every now and again.

It’s the same reason that I like my local butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Some of it’s about personalised service, but a lot of it is about expertise, enthusiasm and entertainment.

I’m not sure anyone loves Little Mix or their music just yet, but we love The X Factor so don’t mind buying their single, in part to reward them for some great Saturday nights.