While it pales into insignificance in relation to VW’s embarrassment, retailers are also increasingly finding it difficult to see the wood for the trees.
While it pales into insignificance in relation to the motor industry and VW’s embarrassment, I have observed that retailers are also increasingly finding it difficult to see the wood for the trees.
The frequency of spectacular own goals is beginning to rival that of the Premier League and results in unwelcome attention and reputational damage.
The grocers have had their travails with meat and milk, while Tesco went as far as misstating its declared profits.
More recently we have witnessed the airport shops boarding cards game, which WHSmith in particular compounded by its disingenuous response – “operational and financial constraints make any form of ‘dual pricing’ a practical impossibility”.
Yet, apparently that has not stopped WHSmith charging higher prices in its hospital shops.
One is tempted to suggest that we may have discovered how WHSmith has consistently grown profits while sales have been declining. Not the whole story I know but an unhappy element.
Putting the customer first
Yet this is happening at a time when every retailer is talking about the technology-driven vision of a customer-centric future and restructuring management to put the customer at the heart of decision making.
“Management has lost sight of the need to have a consistent overview – who are we? What do we stand for? What is our mission?”
Does this focus actually make it any easier to talk to a real person when any problems arise, or does it simply open the floodgates to a fresh avalanche of personalised emails offering you what your previous purchasing behaviour suggests you must be desperate to buy?
Is it that in the pursuit of micro-customer management and communication plus a narrow focus on profit maximisation, management has lost sight of the need to have a consistent overview – who are we? What do we stand for? What is our mission, etc?
This is sad as well as worrying. Historically, this was what distinguished the retail industry and set it apart from other industries.
The strong visionary entrepreneurs such and Sam Walton, ‘Mr Selfridge’, or more recently Anita Roddick and Ray Kelvin created strong, admired and trusted brands.
They knew instinctively who their customers were and what they wanted and set about creating stores which delivered the ‘dream’.
At a time when social media demands transparency and brand reputation, values and trust have become ever more important, are these born retailers now to be considered dinosaurs in the new data bank society?
Every retailer needs a leader who can step back from the day-to-day minutiae of trading and take an objective overview of the company in its socio-economic context.
Otherwise it is like an art exhibition without a curator – the paintings are all beautiful but without the curator the exhibition lacks shape, context and meaning.
Retailers must be proactive and not initially adopt a defensive confrontational stance in the face of change and new challenges and, critically, especially when mistakes are exposed. The customer is always right.
- John Richards is an independent retail consultant and a non-executive director