The trading climate to come will magnify the differences between the strong and the weak. So what are those differences?
Whichever party forms the next government will have the task of tackling the public debt.
It is very hard to imagine the consumer will not be impacted by a round of spending cuts and tax increases that seem inevitable. The one certainty is the second half of this year willbe very different to the first.
As consumers’ disposable income comes under greater pressure, a much tougher trading climate will emerge. The suffering will not be democratic and while we will see more failures, many retailers will do well.
In fact, the trading climate to come will magnify the differences between the strong and the weak. So what exactly are those differences?
Retail is a relatively simple business - in theory at least. The complexity comes in the execution. I have identified five headings that I think are the key factors underlying success, failure and the territory between. It is by no means exhaustive.
Any such discussion must begin with the offer itself. It must be relevant to the customers it targets and it must offer value compared with its peer group. The offer must have clarity and coherence. It needs to strike the balance between genuine choice and the kind of range editing its customers demand as a precondition of loyalty.
The brand is critical and embodies the value a retailer adds to its offer. How well can the market position of the brand be defended? How does it stack up offensively? These questions will be increasingly key in a market with no meaningful growth for some time to come.
The major battleground will be around market share and whether you are a winner or loser. Without market growth and price inflation to mask reality, the differences between winners and losers will diverge.
Management is becoming more demanding. The nature of competition is changing. This is very much about teams. Strategic thinking is vital, but without execution it is worthless. Retail is all about execution and the fortunes of retailers will be determined more than ever by store managers. A culture that trains and nurtures its store managers, and is able to keep them, is critical.
Taking the game to the customer, wherever she is and whenever she is open to buy, is a must. Multichannel is an increasingly significant way of ensuring you can attract whatever demand is out there. Online has grown rapidly and now accounts for well over 10% of total retail sales. It is critical to integrate websites with stores to develop platforms that complement rather than cannibalise.
Finally, there is financial strength. Having a strong balance sheet is a prerequisite of being master of your own destiny. Living with some debt is fine, as long as it can be managed and is not dependent on an assumption of sales growth made in boom times.
Strength in these areas cannot guarantee success but weakness will make survival that much harder.
Richard Hyman strategic adviser, Deloitte