By having the best product, availability and service retailers can lift the mood, says Mark Price

By having the best product, availability and service retailers can lift the mood, says Mark Price

How retail businesses perform has long been taken as a barometer of how the nation is feeling. 

This year, I suspect more than any of us has ever experienced, in the run-up to Christmas and the weeks that follow every piece of retail information – from throwaway remarks to trading updates – will be pored over, discussed and analysed. The conclusions reached will display varying degrees of accuracy or hysteria. 

It’s not just John Lewis and Marks & Spencer that have bellwether status. The entire industry has come to be seen as a reflection of how the population is thinking and feeling.

But, of course, retail isn’t only a reflector of the public mood; it can and does have a significant influence on it. There are some obvious manifestations. 

Beautiful, creative window schemes in shops ranging from the big department stores to small independents lift the spirits, inviting and enticing customers into, in the best examples, an interior where the visual merchandising picks up the theme and carries you along.

Products, too, can inspire and delight, and not just at the high end. Something relatively modest but which is innovative, different and solves a problem for the customer carries with it a feel-good factor.

Delia’s Classic Christmas Cake box is a great example. It’s only £10 but so many customers have been in touch to express their pleasure at being able to make the cake so easily and successfully because of a great recipe and the pre-weighed, prepared ingredients.

Being able to get all the items you want, whether in the shops or online, is a massive contributor to putting a spring in the customer’s step. When you’re juggling the demands of everyday life as well as ensuring all the elements of the Christmas celebrations are going to be just right for your family and friends, you are disproportionately appreciative of the retailer that makes life a little easier for you.

So the massive focus we put on supply chain planning and availability makes a huge difference.

When all aspects of retail are done well there’s a positive response from customers. But, above all and especially at this time of year, great service can have the biggest impact. It ranges from prompt, efficient, accurate responses to acts of courtesy and kindness that exceed workaday expectations.

Our mission as retailers is to run successful, sustainable businesses and to be good employers. 

But if, by doing our jobs well, we lift and lighten the prevailing mood we will be serving our commercial purpose and, I suggest, giving the country as a whole a welcome boost.

  • Mark Price is managing director of Waitrose