West End Cracker!

xmas-lights

 

What do an ITV weather presenter, the NSPCC, Chinese tourists and Brexit all have in common?

Answer: they will all have an impact on Christmas in London’s West End this year. And how do I know this?

I recently attended a breakfast roundtable on the kind invitation of the New West End Company, the business voice of the West End, there to meet with their very personable CEO, Jace Tyrrell and a number of distinguished retailers, writers and analysts together with Lucy Verasamy, former Sky TV weather presenter and now face of the ITV weather. We were gathered to discuss the retail outlook for Christmas 2016 in the West End and a largely positive one it turns out to be.

“After a difficult 2016, the outlook is that the year will end on a more positive note”

London’s West End district, lest we forget, is not only the economic powerhouse for the UK but unrivalled globally as a shopping destination, encompassing as it does, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street. Some of the figures are simply staggering; according to the New West End Company within just 6.34 hectares there are over 600 stores and 219 flagship outlets for global brands. In addition, the West End employs 150,000 people – 3% of the total UK working population and generates more GVA (Gross Value Added) than the City of London representing £5.4billion over the festive period alone.

Over mince pies and coffee we debated the challenges and opportunities for the West End this Christmas, generally coming away feeling cautiously optimistic that after a difficult 2016, the outlook is that the year will end on a more positive note; three key factors contributed to this:

  1. The Weather

That perennial excuse for retail when sales are poor, the great British weather will inevitably play its part this year and whilst the odds on a White Christmas are not good, the best conditions – clear, crisp and dry – look like they will prevail. 

  1. Brexit

Any self respecting article these days needs to include comment on Brexit and it appears that although our pound abroad is suffering this of course means the reverse is true for tourists coming to London. And those from China, the Middle East and the US are especially prevalent. Coming here because of the weak pound but also preferring London to other European cities – the events in Paris and Brussels for example having a positive impact on the increase seen in visitors to London. And of course, what of the Trump factor? First indications are that this will have a positive effect.

  1. Experiential shopping

The West End is home to many leading brands’ flagship stores and visits to the likes of Apple, John Lewis, Hamleys, Polo Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors new flagship store on Regent Street bear this out. More use of personalised offerings and bespoke products are making the stores more vibrant, dynamic and enticing destinations for shoppers. Whilst online continues to grow apace, as we know, stores still account for the vast majority of transactions.

So, whilst it is true that Brexit remains a worry for many people, the vagaries of the British weather notwithstanding, shoppers generally forget their worries at Christmas and are happy to spend; meaning there’s good cause for optimism.

Add to this the traditional illuminations, traffic free Oxford and Regent Street at various times during the festive period, the night tube service and Black Friday and the signs are that pre-Brexit, this could be one of the West End’s best Christmas periods for a long time.

 

 

Andrew Busby is ranked 25th most influential UK retail twitter account and founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board. He is a regular contributor to Retail Week and a member of the IBM Futurist programme.

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Our Social Selves

Five tips for more effective use of social media

 twitter-retweet

 

Many of us use social media every day of our lives without even thinking about it, we use it in all sorts of ways – to communicate, to publish, to broadcast, to share, to promote – there are many different ways we use it but what does ‘social’ actually mean to us?

If you follow my blog you’ll no doubt be aware that my overriding passion is retail and in this sector, social media is playing an increasingly important role, way beyond what many dreamt possible. So what is social and what does it mean to be ‘on’ social media?

There are many definitions of ‘social’ but to me it describes a state of being, a type of behaviour; one I like: “relating to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations”.

Many of us, I would suggest, have been guilty at some time or other of liking or retweeting an article almost without thinking, certainly not taking the time to actually read it (yes I count myself in that number and have sworn never to do it again). In our haste we miss the point of social media, we broadcast without thinking.

” Generosity of spirit is one of the most powerful ways to engage with your audience”

I’ve learnt an awful lot about social media after more than 6 years on twitter and it seems to me that there is protocol to be followed if we are to make the most of our social (media) lives; I’ve listed my personal favourites below, the last of which may be surprising:

 

  1. Be generous

This means being generous with your thoughts, doesn’t equate to having to agree even though a retweet can be interpreted as a sign of endorsement. Generosity of spirit is one of the most powerful ways to engage with your audience;

  1. Be engaging

It’s been said many time before but worth repeating; always try to add value through opinion, thoughts, ideas or suggestions. Social media is awash with benign, nebulous and sometimes downright crass statements that it is often rewarding to read something which adds real value;

  1. Be personable

By this I mean, be nice; terrible word but in this context it accurately describes how our persona, especially if it is our professional persona, should be portrayed. Social media should always be a friendly, safe environment in which to express and share our thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution;

  1. Be grateful

So it follows that we should be grateful – and that means showing it – to others who engage with us and share our thoughts with their audience.

  1. Be provocative

This may at first appear contradictory with the above however it’s really just an extension of adding and creating value. No one wants to hear the same old same old, being provocative for me means stimulating debate by looking at something from a new, different dimension. Social media is all about debate, learning, finding out so go on, don’t be afraid to challenge perceived wisdom – just do it in a friendly, positive way.

Above all – social is for sharing, whether it be thoughts, content, blogs – such as this one, pictures, video, news – the list goes on. The way in which we conduct ourselves on social defines us.

Finally, if you thought none of this really matters, consider this; according to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 77% of companies use social media to identify candidates for positions.

Think twice before firing off that Friday night tweet from the pub!

 

 

Andrew Busby is ranked 25th most influential UK retail twitter account and founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board

More than just a brand

apple-1

If you follow retail and / or technology, it will not have escaped you that earlier this month, Apple reopened its store on London’s Regent Street. I say store but perhaps the term doesn’t quite do it justice. Rather than seeing it prior to opening, devoid of any customers, I went along a few days afterwards to see what all the fuss was about – armed naturally with my (preferred) Samsung android phone.

First, I should say that I’m not an Apple fan, I just have a natural aversion to the brand; but that doesn’t prevent me from admiring what the computer company has achieved. And Regent Street is the embodiment of that.

What struck me first was not the fabric of the building nor the sheer numbers of people in the store – rather it was what they were doing, or more accurately not doing – which caught my attention. It was more like some sort of convention or networking event. People were standing, sitting, casting their eyes over the latest iPhone, chatting informally with store staff but most of all they seemed to simply enjoy being there.

And then it dawned on me; this wasn’t a shop at all. Yes you could make purchases and carry goods away with you but this was something more, much more than an ordinary store – this was a shrine, a mecca – a cathedral to all things Apple!

OK, so the trees and the bare tables might not be to everyone’s taste and the stools at one end may remind us of primary school as opposed to being an environment in which to part with our hard earned cash but none of this seemed to detract for the faithful.

“Apple understand their Why, they understand why they are in business, they understand what they stand for and the new Regents Street store oozes their Why”

This was where they came to gaze, to enquire, to seek help, to handle, to share, to admire – to be amongst like minded people – this was where people came to honour and revere the brand. Even the layout could be likened to a religious place with tall pillars either side, seating by which to simply come and sit and contemplate and the huge screen at one end admirably mimicked the high alter, drawing in the masses.

As the much admired author and TED speaker Simon Sinek put it in his book ‘Start With Why’, Apple understand their Why, they understand why they are in business, they understand what they stand for and the new Regents Street store oozes their Why.

For a confirmed android user it was all pretty amazing but the message behind it is very clear. Retail brands now more than ever before need to create an experience if people are to visit their stores in numbers again and again. Millennials seek experiences as opposed to simply shopping. They want to be inspired. They want their lives to be enriched. They seek added value in some way or other.

Like it or not, Apple delivers this – and that is why the store should attract many more people – to gaze and simply wonder at what a great in-store experience really looks and feels like.

Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board

Marmitegate – PR gold

 

According to Unilever CFO Graeme Pitkethly, the price spat this week between Unilever and Tesco has been resolved; for now that maybe true but to think that this will be the last time we witness a supplier and a retailer come to blows over pricing would be to kid ourselves. The dye has been cast.

In a nutshell, Unilever wished to pass on a seemingly arbitrary 10% price hike in the cost of its products to the retailers as a direct result of the weakened pound. This of course was to ignore the fact that prices weren’t similarly reduced when the pound was strong (a lesson learnt from the oil companies perhaps?)

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis, ex Unilever Exec of course, wasn’t having any of this and delisted many Unilever products from Tesco online and stocks in store were allowed to dwindle. The stand-off lasted several days but happily, unlike Govia and the RMT, it was resolved before the nation really did come to a standstill, starved of Marmite and PG Tips.

But of course nothing is quite as it appears. Tesco is clearly in a different place today than it was two years ago when Dave Lewis took over at the helm. The brand was toxic and what Lewis realised was that this urgently needed repairing if Tesco were to recover ground in the face of the relentless march of the discounters. Unilever was a heaven sent opportunity.

In a recent interview with retail business consultants PatelMiller, that most respected of retail analysts, Richard Hyman said this;

“The single most important thing that they (retailers) need to do, is to strengthen their brand relationship with their customers”

In this latest dispute with Unilever, it would appear that Lewis has taken this to heart. Whilst the pricing issue was clearly fundamental and needed addressing, by far the most important aspect for Tesco and Lewis was the PR opportunity it presented. Whilst many consumers will know of Unilever, they may not be as likely to know all their brands, much less care. What they care about is the availability of their favourite products – and in the face of a corporate bully, Tesco has stood up for the little man; who would have thought it just two short years ago – Tesco – champion of the consumer?

As has been said many times elsewhere, brands are best.

 

Andrew Busby is a retail specialist, founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board

“Cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich”

“Cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich”

For every retail success story there is often one of unmitigated disaster. On the day when Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley motivates his workforce by telling the BBC that he commutes to work by helicopter, here are a few examples of some of the worst retail blunders.

 

  1. Never underestimate the power of social media

In the run up to Christmas peak trading 2014 Sainsbury’s launched a staff incentive scheme known as ‘the 50 pence challenge’ the idea being to get eversainos_3154270cy customer to spend 50p more on each shopping trip. The poster was for internal use only however in one store it was posted in the window. A photograph of the poster was tweeted and social media went wild with rival Lidl launching its own 50 pence challenge “Let’s encourage every one of our lovely customers to save as many 50ps as possible,” it said. Ouch.

 

Photo: Chris Dodd

  1. We all love a bargain

Promotions are a key part of any retailer’s marketing armoury however one such run by Hoover cost the company at least £20m and caused huge embarrassment to its brand. Under the offer, anyone purchasing a Hoover product costing more than £100 was eligible for two free return air tickets to Europe or the US. Any customers buying the cheapest qualifying product, priced at £119, could receive two tickets to New York. Well, this proved irresistible to many – the upshot being that an estimated 100,000 people applied for the flights. The marketing blunder cost three top Hoover executives their jobs. Suck it up guys.

  1. Stick to what you know

In 2008 US electricals giant Best Buy signalled its intent to penetrate the UK market with up to 200 big box stores across the country going head to head with the Currys / PC World brands. On the face of things, it looked compelling but just 18 months and only 11 store openings later it was making a hasty retreat. The timing couldn’t have been worse in the economic downturn in the UK and at the time big box out of town locations weren’t the thing to have. Best Buy simply couldn’t adapt to a different strategy, Currys PC World continues to flourish whilst Best Buy is but a distant memory. A lesson for a certain Australian DIY chain perhaps?

  1. Keep it under lock and key

Maintaining the integrity and security of personal data is one of the biggest issues for retailers right now and one of the biggest concerns affecting consumer confidence. Not surprising when you look at some of history’s cyber disasters. The largest and most infamous? That award has to go to Target, the US retail giant. In the days prior to Thanksgiving 2013, someone installed malware in Target’s security and payments system designed to steal every credit card used at the company’s 1,797 U.S. stores. At the critical moment—when the Christmas gifts had been scanned and bagged and the cashier asked for a swipe—the malware would step in, capture the shopper’s credit card number, and store it on a Target server commandeered by the hackers. The result? Over 90 lawsuits, 46% drop in operating profit and Target Executives forced to testify to Congress.

 

  1. “Doing a Ratner”

Any list such as this cannot be complete without the blunder to end all blunders. Whilst I’m sure most have heard it before, it is still worth repeating as a lesson to every retailer.

Gerald Ratner, founder and CEO of Ratners jewellers wiped £500 million from the value of his business with one speech to the IoD in 1991. During it he said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.”

ratner

And whilst he had his own brand on the floor, he gave it a kicking just for good measure, adding that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

Good night Gerald.

 

 

Andrew Busby is a retail sales consultant and founder of The Retail Advisory Board

 

Fat and Lazy

 

Meet my two best friends ‘Personalisation’ & ‘Customer Experience’

Much is written about personalisation and customer experience – the two are natural bedfellows -and if we believe much of what we read, we would be forgiven for thinking that both are highly sophisticated and mature. That both are the product of much development and investment, consequently delivering that most elusive of factors – customer ‘stickability’ or as some would have it – loyalty.

In truth, whilst there’s no doubting that retailers increasingly understand that they must make a significant commitment to both, the reality is very different. When Liam Fox was referring to British business as being ‘fat and lazy’ he could so easily have been referring to personalisation and customer experience. Why? Current attempts at personalisation are both one dimensional and reactive, at best relying on calendar entries and smart mirrors to create an illusion of personalised engagement.

As an example, I recently received (through my letterbox no less) a card from a well known national florist, reminding me that it was my mother’s birthday soon and suggesting which flower arrangement I may wish to send. I thanked them for their interest, informing them that my mother had passed away 9 months previously.

Now, I hear you ask; how on earth are they expected to know that my mother had passed away? My response – don’t be lazy, true personalisation is knowing your customer and engaging in a relevant, contextual manner. Not simply relying on calendar prompts and firing off unsolicited mailshots. Show me that you can engage in a relevant manner and I will happily provide the information necessary to give you the context.

Simple tracking of social media can provide deep insights into many different aspects of our lives – how we are feeling, if we are on holiday, our interests, our priorities even what mood we are in. And what’s more, as consumers, many of us are willing to pay for what in reality we should expect as the new normal. According to Deloitte in a report published in 2015 titled “The Rise of Mass Personalisation”, 1 in 5 consumers who expressed an interest in personalised products or services are willing to pay a 20% premium.

So what does all this mean?  The implications for retailers who do not embrace the technology required to deliver a personalised experience for their customers are clear and serious. Never before have we, as consumers, been so demanding, so promiscuous – willing to drop a brand and move to the competition without hesitation. And what’s more, our expectations keep on growing exponentially. Only those retailers who understand this will survive, the outlook for the remainder is bleak.

 

Andrew Busby is Founder of The Retail Advisory Board

When Retailers Collapse

When Retail Brands Collapse

With the news that two iconic stalwarts of our High Street are to disappear, Andrew Busby takes a look at the emotional impact of retailers going out of business.

Last week received confirmation that was always on the cards; BHS, that iconic brand, will join Austin Reed and disappear from our High Streets.

Coming at the same time as the news of Austin Reed perhaps made the impact all the greater, both brands being an ever present landmark on the High Street for generations. Both sadly lost their way and with it their relevance to their customers. In the face of stiff competition from both the higher end designer labels and the bottom end discount fashion brands, squeezed in the centre without a raison d’etre, the outcome was perhaps inevitable. But rather than analyse the why (many column inches have already been filled on that subject) it is worth considering the emotional impact when a retail brand collapses. On the workforce unfortunately and regrettably but I am thinking here more of the impact on all of us, especially the consumer.

Despite its problems and challenges, many of us still recall Woolworths with some degree of affection and in particular their pick and mix. For those of us of a certain age, we can recall as children happily helping ourselves to the pick and mix on a Saturday morning whilst out shopping with our parents (naturally the author refrained from such activity). The brand became a part of our upbringing and our lives and from there an emotional attachment was born which lasted a lifetime. Maybe not always a happy relationship but nevertheless, one in which, I would contend, many of us enjoyed in ways in which we never would with brands from other sectors such as banking or technology or utilities.

And this is the thing; retail brands connect with us not just on a physical or pragmatic level but an emotional one in ways which brands from other sectors (with notable exceptions) would love to emulate.

When a retail brand collapses, in a way a part of us – our DNA if you like – goes with it. I would hesitate to suggest that we grieve when this occurs but it is something akin to this if only in our subconscious. Farfetched? Just consider for a moment your favourite brand and I would venture that it is very likely to be a retailer or close to; now think for a moment if they disappeared tomorrow. You get my point.

BHS and Austin Reed may be gone but, like Woolworths before, it will take a lot longer for them to be forgotten.

 

Andrew Busby is Retail Business Head at Zensar Technologies