Shopping Insights from Retail Experts: Scale or Fail

The world of retail is changing rapidly. Industry giants are taking up an increasing share of the market. eCommerce continues to dominate buyers’ decisions and escalate consumer escalation. And everyone’s talking about the current set of nightmares in supply chain. Consider the effects of this combination on an interconnected world that’s still reeling from a pandemic, and you’ve got a number of high-level questions for how your business can stay afloat. Hoping to make use of expert insight on these pressing problems and others? Read on for insight and predictions from Steve, a highly experienced retail expert with significant leadership experience in this field.

All About Steve

 

Steve has held major roles in retail for almost 30 years. He spent most of it in two “big retail” department store chains. Both are household names — the first a massive institution, the second specializing in luxury goods. Steve’s roles in this ecosystem have spanned throughout trade, purchasing, management, chief-of-staff equivalency, planning, analytics, financial forecasting, and support for large planning teams. He has applied his knowledge and experience to a variety of fields: Assortments by location; channel allocation by store; total inventory management; vendor negotiations; P&L; and more.

Even more recently, Steve’s wide-reaching experience has included regional management in numerous product categories, both online and in-store. Currently, he focuses on independent consulting, where retail clients tap into his thought leadership regarding supply chain, operations and inventory management.

Retail Consulting for Clients Like You

 

In one recent case, Steve’s client, a manufacturer, was approached by a large national retailer to redo their whole store offering. The goal? To take over an entire product category. Problem-solving included top-to-bottom store setup within a store model — the first endeavor of this kind within multiple sides of their business.

Steve’s recent work also includes retail planning within a third household name — a multinational chain of membership-only big box retail warehouse stores. His skill set for consulting is both varied and high-level, and, in his words, “unusual.” He has served as an expert witness on three or four recent retail disputes, where his responsibilities have included independent insight, expert report-writing, depositions, and testimony.

Customer Centricity in a Changing Landscape

 

So, what has Steve learned and done that can apply to you? For starters, he observes, “Every retailer talks about putting the customer first.” The precept dates back to the rise of the department store and rings to the point of cliché today. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t actually place consumer-friendliness at the top of their priority list if it doesn’t support their bottom line. How do you correct that issue? One paragon is that same luxury chain, which has always been “absolutely fixated” on the question, “What is the right thing for us to do for the customer?” Their organization brings that big query into every decision they make — a frame of mind that recalls their heritage of service as their full focus and a calling card.

Department stores sell goods people like, but these aren’t always products people need. Some retailers have learned the only way to ensure customers keep coming back is to deliver a positive experience. The fork in the road looms large: The prospect of profit, even when the increases are slight, comes with the risk of delivering a bad experience to the customer. Sometimes the promise of customer centricity is just a statement, and sometimes it’s a philosophy the business puts into practice every day. Sometimes retailers fixate on P&L so closely it erodes customer loyalty, while others — the winners — are always chasing what Steve calls “the pinnacle of service.”

How Do Major Retail Players Know What Works?

 

We asked Steve whether the forerunners in this space conduct formal research on buyer perspective. To our surprise, they tend not to! In his experience, retailers act more on “mindset” than on focus groups and consumer surveys. In a nutshell, Steve observes, “You always know what’s right from the customers, whether or not you’ve got the sort of stomach to act on it.” Finances and informal research play a role, in other words, but the answer tends to rest on instinct. He recalled a Fortune 500 store management meeting wherein a participant tried to focus on the goal of driving traffic to the stores. A more experienced leader responded to clarify their goal wasn’t to drive traffic to the stores — rather, to serve the existing customer in whatever way they want to be served.

Steve explained that the customer isn’t going to bend where the retailer tries to push them. They’re going to find someone who does make it easy. And retailers ought to aim to be that organization. A major finding: Customers shop online, but the vast majority bring their returns back into the stores. Strong retailers work hard to express sincere gratitude for their business, make the process as easy as they can, and ensure the most pleasant brick-and-mortar visit possible.

More on Customer Focus, Holiday Shopping, and the Rise of eCommerce

 

In our next blog post covering Steve’s interview, we’ll dive into much greater detail on a variety of hot retail topics. Holiday shopping. Steve’s major expectations for this year. The impact of COVID on supply chain. Unprecedented nightmares in shipping and inventory management. The rise of “casualization” in workplace attire and consumer ideas about comfort. Steve’s predictions for eCommerce. Railing against the “bad store” model — and, just as interesting, eCommerce’s history and recent past. Expectations for shopping malls throughout the country. Non-traditional marketing. And other surprises.

Are you wondering what the impacts of a seismic shift in the retail landscape will hold for your business? What can you expect when it comes to consumer demand? Is customer service more essential than ever? Or are buyers simply clicking at lightning pace for clothes, leisure goods, and holiday gifts? How do you stay ahead of skyrocketing expectations and the additive, innovative facets of eCommerce? Keep your eyes open for the next installment of our “Shopping Insights from Retail Experts” series of blog posts sharing expert insight into the ever-shifting world of retail.

Written by Zaq Baker, Senior Manager, Expert ENGINE

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