Amaz­ing ser­vice and small acts of kind­ness will bring in the cus­tomers

Straight-talk­ing, com­mon sense from the front line of man­age­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - SIR JOHN TIMPSON

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 askjohn@tele­graph.co.uk

Streets ahead: there are many busi­nesses that just can­not be du­pli­cated on­line

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