Amazing service and small acts of kindness will bring in the customers
Straight-talking, common sense from the front line of management
QNow lockdown is beginning to ease, how can I (a small gift shop owner) encourage more people to come in and part with their cash? People still seem too afraid of hitting the high street – and too keen on saving their money and spending online …
AYou’re right to be worried about the momentous move to online shopping. The Office for National Statistics reports that in June, nonfood sales in shops were 33pc below February’s level, while online grew by 73pc. Internet retailers have grabbed a massive increase in market share during lockdown and it won’t be easy for shops like yours to fight back.
Online competitors can probably match your products and beat you on price. A good website is as easy to read as a shop window and interior displays, and most internet retailers provide fast and reliable home delivery.
In six months, internet shopping has joined retail’s first division and is unlikely ever to be relegated. In the Fifties, more than 90pc of our shopping was done on the high street (the biggest threat was mail order).
Now customers split their business between high streets, out of town sites and online. Traditional shops such as yours face formidable competition, with most pandemic policies favouring online customers. After all, you don’t have to wear a mask to buy online.
Fortunately for the future of the high street, there are still many businesses that can’t be duplicated online – and not just hairdressers, nail bars, key cutters and cobblers, but fishmongers, butchers, coffee bars and bakeries that provide fresh produce with a magical dose of personal service.
I believe shopping will remain one of our principal leisure pursuits because human contact is a vital part of life. We all need to experience attachment to other people – not just the critical attachment in childhood to primary carers (usually mum and dad), but also throughout life to friends, neighbours and the general public.
A lack of social contact has been the key cause of mental health problems during lockdown. I vividly remember shopping trips with my mother. We went to Mr Hulme, the butcher in Hale Barns, Cheshire. He knew every customer by name and made them all feel special (“I’ve kept a couple of your favourite chops and as it’s my birthday, I’ll charge half price,” I remember him saying).
We also visited Cadmans, the grocer in Hale, where sugar and flour were measured into brown paper bags and the order was delivered to your home later the same day. Even today, it’s people, not computers, that offer the most amazing service.
Specialist service shops and face-to-face customer contact will be an important feature of our future towns.
Imaginative planners need to create redevelopments that include a mix of leisure, culture, entertainment, medical centres, social services, retail and residential property to provide a social hub. But it will take at least five years to reimagine a town and you need to know what you can do right now.
It’s tempting to put all your efforts into a clearance sale – to sell the excess stock delivered in time for the non-existent Easter trade and put some much needed money in the bank. But this is a short-term strategy; the best way to compete with internet competitors is through great, truly personal service.
Since they reopened, most of our Snappy Snaps franchisees have been working full-time in their shops. Instead of visiting corporate clients or an occasional afternoon on the golf course, they kept some colleagues on furlough and saved money by serving customers themselves. I suggest you do exactly the same.
The way to compete with online competition is to give amazing service mixed with some random acts of kindness. By serving as many customers as you can, you will keep close to the detail and spot new ways to wow your customers.
The best ideas come from being in the business, rather than sitting behind a desk thinking about it. Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high street services provider, Timpson. Send him an email at email@example.com
Streets ahead: there are many businesses that just cannot be duplicated online