Today’s macro-economy, with all its uncertainties, is clearly doing no favours for retailers who rely on ‘the feel-good factor’ flourishing among their customers.
Which, for most of us, is far more important than publicity, product or pricing.
Yet uncertainty, like the weather, cannot absorb all the blame for retail’s hugely publicised travails and torrid trading.
It is clear that not recognising the seismic shift in consumer aspirations, expectations and habits – whether driven by the web, fashion, social trends or austerity – and then taking urgent remedial action also has a monster part to play.
“It is clear that not recognising the seismic shift in consumer aspirations, expectations and habits and then taking urgent remedial action has a monster part to play”
I visited Toys R Us in Leeds last week to buy a big, soft, spongy, cuddly elephant to soak up my tears – tempted by a 20% discount in the closing-down sale.
It was a case of déjà vu; the store was virtually identical to the Toys R Us I used to visit when toy-shopping for my grandkids 20-odd years ago.
From Brexit to Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump to Rocket Man, Monsieur Macron to Justin Trudeau and Elon Musk’s rockets to electric driverless cars, our planet has been changing faster than ever.
Where has it gone – that wondrous land I knew so well?
With the City pages analysing the collapse and closure of famous names in retailing, it is impossible not to note that a common factor seems to be a suicidal failure to keep up with that very same galloping change in the economic, social and technological environment.
So, time for some inspiration from a company that has a proven track record of overcoming all such challenges.
I have admired the successful retail business Next PLC since its inception and have respected its sales performance, financial results, and the honesty and transparency of its reporting to the City.
Most of all, though, I have been awestruck by its consistency in recognising the need to do things differently and then taking immediate action.
I am a most enthusiastic fan of the company’s unerring ability to keep current, cool and in tune with both today and tomorrow.
The Next business is unrecognisable from where it used to be, having seamlessly segued from small high street shops to big, purpose-designed out-of-town megastores; from doorstop-sized paper catalogues and an army of part-time agents to a sophisticated online business that guarantees delivery to customers quicker than the time between changing socks.
And it is not just a bit of fine-tuning at Next; it is open-minded ‘all change’.
They moved into furniture for the home and soon became a force in that tricky specialist field of sofas and chairs. Choosing to actually manufacture the product, too.
“The Next business is unrecognisable from where it used to be, having seamlessly segued from high street shops to out-of-town megastores; from doorstop-sized paper catalogues to a sophisticated online business”
Bold and not without hassle, you bet, but here is a ‘can do’ organisation that doesn’t allow a bit of short-term grief to cloud the correct long-term business decision.
Now, with carnage reigning in retail, and household names failing, cutting back and battening down the hatches, what are Next proposing to do – sit on their hands? No chance.
No, sir – they continue to listen to the marketplace, respond and amend their offering.
Doing whatever needs doing, like their delivery promise, pronto.
And, if necessary, make it radical: maybe create a new kind of hybrid store that sells cars alongside fashion, adding some innovative leisure, all to make shopping in person the fun and pleasure it needs to be as buyers of our more everyday needs continue to shift online.
If we want our businesses to survive and thrive, perhaps we all need to ask what’s next.