Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Instore digital – the saviour of our high streets??

Instore digital – the saviour of our high streets??

Unless you have been residing under a very large rock for the last six months, you will be aware that one of the latest buzzes around retail right now is the fusion of high street retail with digital technologies

For some, online and offline retail are still very much separate entities, which compete with one another, and have little in common apart from the fact that they are vehicles for sales, however the boundaries between on and offline retail are rapidly beginning to become less distinct.

The realisation is that each domain has fundamental failings (convenience, shopability,experience) that are insurmountable with marketing or design, and so what we are starting to see is that the 'offline' shopping experience increasingly being digitised, and, to a much lesser extent online is adopting more of the offline ways.

“We could ultimately be on the way to shops that are populated with holographic stock”

So where does this all end? Well that's just the thing it doesn’t. As technology marches on, and the most 'way out' and exotic technologies become viable from a commercial perspective, we could ultimately be on the way to shops that are populated with holographic stock, with the trying on of clothes becoming a thing of the past, as technology will be able to scan your dimensions, and choose the size for you on the fly.

Sounds a bit like science fiction to you? Well these technologies are all about – though stupidly expensive / impractical at present, and have not been brought together in a cohesive retail centric way. Pretty soon we will see this type of thing rolled out.

The technology of today however has to be mobile hand held devices.

As with a lot of newer technologies the potential for this technology is lagging behind our own imaginations – currently retailers are not really facing up to the potential for customer mobile use. A good example of this reluctance to embrace mobile is the statistic that 60% of the UK's top 100 retailers don't have a mobile optimised web site!

“60% of the UK's top 100 retailers don't have a mobile optimised web site”

The possibilities?

Imagine being able to communicate with a customer as soon as they enter the store, telling them what is on offer that day, perhaps giving them the ability to navigate to these offers?

This data could be 'pushed' to hand held devices quite easily with existing technology, 'in-door GPS' has already been trialled utilising multiple calibrated WiFi transmitters.

As with all technologies, the direction that innovations take are completely dependant on the potential to monetise, as yet full proof strategies to derive serious extra revenue from these technologies haven’t really been executed in an optimised fashion – though it will and fast.

A great number of retailers have strategies in place to introduce in store digital projects during the first half of 2013 – and by the end of the year, it will be commonplace to see handheld devices augmenting the high street retail experience.

So – to address the title, is this new wave the saviour of our high streets? Well yes and no.

The cost of technology does mean that smaller operators are not going to able to benefit from this tech. However plans are afoot to setup and independent basic system that any retailer could sign up for, though with less functionality than the bespoke systems the big retailers can afford.

The bottom line here is that to coin a phrase 'every little helps'................but the high street is going to need more than an app or two to save it, what interests me is when the really serious technology hits in a year or two - full virtual reality shopping anyone?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Why has shopping become so dull?

Today I did something that I don't do enough of (bearing in mind I specialise in retail) and that was to walk around my local city centre, with the mindset of a display professional, rather than the standard male 'beam me up Scotty' mindset that often goes hand in hand shopping with ones better half.

2013 is already shaping up as a hugely challenging year for retailers, in case you need reminding. The economic climate we are currently experiencing seems to be particularly adroit at picking off the weak and wobbly amongst our retail players.

What today has taught me however is that in 2013 there is a huge gulf in the quality of retailers estates, and for some very big names, there are some rocky times ahead unless they start making some quick and effective changes to their operations.

Customer experience (or lack of in some cases)

It seems hard to fathom in these times that some retailers seem to be either ignoring or badly executing customer experience strategies.

To my mind a good experience can be summed up in three parts.

  1. Presentation or Theatre of the store environment (eliciting a favourable emotional response within the shopper – even entertaining them)
  2. Shopability of the store (how easy is it to interact with product, find the correct product, and ultimately buy said product)
  3. Outstanding customer service ( courteous helpful staff, who run the gamut of attentive, but not in your face)

Of the stores that I have been to today, just one store ticked all three boxes convincingly – all of the others ticked only one or two of the boxes.

So what are the common failings that stores seem to have?

Unsurprisingly it's the one that is hardest to pull off, the one that is most subjective – store theatre.

Proof that theatre can be introduced in any instore environment

 It seems as though some of the store designs on our high street favour the strategy of ensuring that they offend no-one, however the flipside is that in doing so they don't really engage with anyone either.

If retail (by which I mean real world shops and stores) are to survive, they must offer an engaging experience – otherwise we will see online retails inexorable march continuing, and more of our beloved 'offline' retailers will be lost.

So who is doing a good job, and who has work to do?

For me Next are doing one of the best jobs, store design is contemporary, clean and very shopable, staff are courteous,friendly and of smart appearance, and overall the experience is very good.

Debenhams on the other hand have an awful long way to go.

The store I visited was full of terrible low quality ceiling cards, the shop floor itself was crammed with product hampering shopability, plinths and fixtures are old and badly showing their age, and staff are dressed more like they should be behind the counter of a builders merchants than department store.

Overall, the ambiance was discount store, not department store.

I wonder if any of you have been watching 'Mr Selfridge' as your Sunday night frothy light drama of choice?

Whilst it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, what it does bring home in an effective manner is the way in which instore theatre created the first retail revolution a century ago, shaping the the way that stores would operate for years to come.

 "Shopping is entertainment" - Vittorio Radice

I wonder if in 2013 stores should take a leaf out of old Harry Selfridge's book, and give the people a bit of sauce with their shopping experience.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Company culture for the real world

We've all read the blogs and articles that say quite clearly that after strategy, company culture is key to the success of your business, but how can you translate the psycho-babble into real world techniques that are actually deployable within your organisation, even if you are not a FTSE / Fortune 500 company.

The following blog is my own personal way of doing things, I don't claim it to be anything approaching industry standard, though it does work, and draws upon initiatives that have been rolled out across highly successful organisations all over the world – if anyone else has other ideas – pitch them in, always glad to hear of other techniques.

One of the biggest hurdles in tackling culture is acknowledging that the road to success is nothing if not long, , you will wonder if, A) its working, B) its worth it and, C) whether it is going to result in a bottom line improvement.

Its absolutely key that you keep the faith with the plan, follow it through, it WILL work.

Okay, so we know its going to be tough but in the end of benefit, how do we start? 

Naturally as with anything in business it must be planned, and the first stage of planning requires us to health-check the current culture that you have. Don't necessarily assume that it is ripe for change, things may be coming along just fine, and merely require a little tweaking to get things on track, be prepared however to have a top to bottom re-vamp.

What are the signs of poor culture? This is a valid question, and one that for senior management is hard to answer. There are few ways that we can actually measure the culture within the company, though there are a couple of tricks to deploy, the chief of these is employee retention stats, the other is your staff sickness record. If you ask people how happy / motivated / engaged they are at work, the chances are that you will not get a particularly accurate response – for varying reasons.

If you are a big player with deep pockets, you might design a psychometric test that is able to determine how your team is feeling, but for most of us, that just is not an option.

For the most part assessing the business will need a qualitative approach, and this is often where specialist advice is sought, as, its the type of thing that cannot be undertaken by anyone in your business in a position of authority for fear of self interest creeping into staff responses.

Phase 1 – reactive culture

Lets skip a step here, lets assume that you have checked staff retention and sickness figures, they are slightly worse than the average for your industry, you have also run a qualitative assessment with staff, and have identified some key areas that lead to staff feeling disengaged or otherwise undervalued, be careful not to ignore what you might think is trivial, such as the quality of coffee from the machine ( its all valid, though obviously some things are more valid than others).

Also be very careful to be as objective as possible (easier said than done I know) I have had experience where a number of issues have cropped up within businesses that staff and bosses have been wrangling over for years, and as a  result  has driven a wedge between shop floor and management. 

If an 'old chestnut' of worker dissatisfaction crops up, look at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to make the solving of this issue a standard bearer for the new regime – if it can be finally resolved, it will work wonders.

What you now have is the raw data with which to build a plan, I would of course at this stage recommend that the plan is SMART and that critically it is 'bought into' at the highest level of the business.

What of course we have here is very much a reactive plan, that deals with issues that prevent good culture, what they will not do alone is create great culture

Phase 2 – proactive culture

Once the reactive issues have been resolved take the process to phase 2, this is the hardest part, taking a now content workforce, and transforming them into fully engaged motivated people, not afraid to come up with ideas, always willing to give 100%

This is the part of the process which owes less to common sense, and more to creativity, but also its the part that generates the most business benefit.

Whilst it would be folly to try to tell you how to go about a phase 2 process in great detail, what I can tell you is that one of the prime issues to resolve is to stop managing the business and start leading it. In short manager's must be obeyed, however leaders inspire. Great I hear you cry, but how do we do that?????

In general a leader will trust staff more than a manager, they will work hard to set the example, give praise when its due (publicly) Let's face it people have written books on the subject, so I'm not even going to approach to do it justice in these few paragraphs, suffice to say management books need to be thrown away at all levels, to be replaced by a culture of leadership.

As for other techniques, look at companies with great culture, call them, talk to them, get under the skin of what worked for them, so that you can replicate their success.

Once in full swing keep monitoring your retention and sickness levels on a monthly basis, this will help to determine the degree of your success, you should also start to see profitability rise (though not *necessarily* turnover)

In conclusion

To some getting the culture in a business right can feel a little like the tail wagging the dog, after all you are doing a lot of listening to what effects the workforce, and it can feel like you are indulging them – however you must fight that feeling. 

Those in your business who are not the right for your culture, usually the ones taking advantage of the new regime, and giving little back in terms of extra commitment and diligence – this is where you need to get tough, if its just not happening, perhaps they need to find work some place else. Don't shirk this, everyone from the top to the bottom needs to have bought in fully – otherwise its just not going to work.

Hopefully this blog has given you some thoughts on how cultural change can be worked through in your business, perhaps you disagree with my methods? You can adapt change, or indeed do the exact opposite of what I am suggesting – at least thought has been provoked.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Simon Sinek -How great leaders inspire action


I've only been aware of Simon Sinek for around a year, and, his slightly annoying mid atlantic accent aside (Sorry Simon) he has redefined the way that I look at things.

Sinek has a great skill, and that is pointing out the obvious stuff in life or business that the rest of the planet seems to have missed. He is the master of the 'ahh ha' moment.

His TED talk of '09' typifies this, so for those who have not seen it here it is - well worth 18 minutes of your life.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Perfection is for losers

For some of the more enlightened amongst you, what I am about to reveal to you will not be news - it will be (to them at least) common sense, I have to say that for a while this also eluded me, until I read a book that changed my whole perception of work and life.

How many of us have been told or taught that we should always aim to make things perfect....shoot for the stars. Sound familiar??

Well I have news for you, perfection is for losers - here's why.

Perfection as a commodity is not in demand - period.

This may sound like a pretty dumb statement, everybody wants stuff that they commission or work on to be perfect right ?? Wrong.......Perfect is expensive. Perfect is time consuming. Perfect is merely a millstone around our necks, a rod for our own backs - it stifles and saps our inner energy and creativity.

Okay so what do we strive for, if not perfection?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

5 reasons some recruiters think they are 007?

I am sure you can all identify with this, a recruiter contacts you, regarding a 'fantastic opportunity' however once it comes to divulging the sort of information that might get you salivating about said opportunity - like who the client is or what level of salary is on offer, suddenly they clam up, using some recruiteresque jargon such as ' our client is an international manufacturer' and ' Salary – Competitive'.

A lot of people that I have spoken to perceive this behavior as, at best obstructive, at worst downright shifty - for many they are reading the subtext as...." if I told you who the client was you might not be interested" which for the most part is the exact opposite of the truth.

There are many reasons and causes for recruitment being cloak and dagger, so here's the low down.

1) Client confidentiality - many clients will not authorise their name to be published - certainly in print or on the web, the rationale for this is that some are reluctant to let their opposition see that they are recruiting – the reasons for this can be varied, but hey – they pay the bill, so they can call the shots!

2) Jilted candidates - If a recruiter discusses a role for a particular client to a candidate too soon, and the candidate subsequently proves not to be suitable, the recruiter may wish to approach one of the candidates colleagues with the opportunity.

Should these two talk, its always best if the jilted candidate is not in a position to enlighten the second candidate that they were approached first – face it who wants to feel like a second choice.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Recruiters........what is their problem??

Is this how the world views recruiters
In my time in this industry one of the most difficult things to come to terms with is how I am now perceived, being a recruitment insider.

When I was operational within POP as a project manager, I was used to people asking my advice, being keen to take my call, glad that I was on board and helping to make the project in hand a success.

My experience now?? Few people are interested in my perception of the industry, my calls are no longer the ones that people will stop conversations for, and I generally get the feeling that I am tolerated rather than welcomed into the process.

Boo Hoo I hear you cry......get over it!!! Well the purpose of this blog is not to illicit mass sympathy to my plight, rather to raise the question of what it is with the recruitment industry that generates this universal response?

I don't think anyone would argue that recruiting done well can have just as much business changing effect than a project manager – in fact some might argue that it is more influential as it has the ability to alter and improve all sections of a business.

So....Why is it that when my job title changes – so does the level of professional respect that I command ?
Am I the victim of an industry that has pretty much got the same reputation as timeshare with regards to the perceived level of professionalism and integrity.

And if this is the case what do we do about it?