Tag Archives: Retail

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Can pandemic-surviving shopping malls actually thrive?

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The coronavirus pandemic has hit U.S. shopping malls particularly hard. Shopping malls — by definition and function — have numerous stores in close vicinity to each other. Typically, that creates a convenient shopping experience, as consumers can easily travel from one store to the next.

But in our current environment, proximity is a negative attribute. Can shopping malls survive the pandemic and actually prosper on the other side?

The perfect storm

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a big blow to shopping malls, which have already been struggling in recent years,” says Jie Zhang, Ph.D., professor of marketing, and Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Shopping malls are nonessential businesses, and as such, many local and state governments ordered them shuttered. “As many mall-based retailers struggle with cash flow, even a few months of business closing could push some out of business,” Zhang explains. “In fact, some already have to defer their rent payments, which is causing an immediate impact on shopping mall operators.”

Some malls remained open, although many individual tenants were closed. And now, many malls around the country are cautiously reopening. “While I expect many shopping malls will eventually weather the storm, unfortunately some of them will not be able to survive, let alone, recover,” Zhang says.

Her view is shared by Patrick Carroll, CEO and founder of CARROLL Org, a billion-dollar real estate investment company headquartered in Atlanta. “I think shopping malls will be very lucky if they can make it through this pandemic — and most will not make it,” he says. “The smaller tenants that filled a good portion of the malls will be hardest hit, but the bigger risk will be the loss of key anchors such as Neiman Marcus and Macy’s.”

Carroll thinks it will be a long time before shopping in an enclosed environment will be appealing to consumers.

Malls and department stores were already in trouble. In 2019, over 9,300 retailers closed stores, according to Coresight Research. And a Credit Suisse report projected store closures would cause up to 25% of malls to go out of business by 2022. Also, pre-COVID-19 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted at least a 2% decline in job demand for retail sales workers.

The way back

However, Zhang doesn’t consider the situation to be entirely dismal. “Those retailers and shopping malls that use the current crisis as a catalyst to transform themselves are much more likely to bounce back and thrive,” she says. “For example, the unique nature of this pandemic has created unprecedented demand for online shopping and home deliveries, which forces many retailers to quickly enhance their e-commerce and logistic capabilities.”

And making improvements to their e-commerce infrastructure could be quite beneficial in the long term. “It would enable them to embrace the online shopping trend and incorporate that into omnichannel strategies that would also benefit their brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls,” Zhang explains. “Those shopping malls that are already putting innovative measures in place to enhance their appeals are also more likely to benefit from pent-up demand, especially for entertainment and hedonic products, once the coronavirus situation subsides.”

She says malls need both short-term and long-term plans to lure customers back. “In the short term, shopping malls need to implement strong measures to ensure the health safety of shoppers and their employees, and effectively communicate to customers about those measures.”

In the longer term, Zhang recommends that malls continue to enhance their amenities, and she says it’s a good idea to strengthen the entertainment and recreational appeals of their facilities. “Leveraging the social and experiential aspects of customer experiences will be the key for shopping malls to succeed in competing with online retailing and free-standing discount retailers.”

Kevin McGowan is the president of McGowan Corporate Real Estate Advisors in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He predicts that there will continue to be grocery-anchored retail centers — but drive-thru pickup might become the norm instead of the exception.

“For the other retail centers that are not grocery-anchored but are anchored by retailers that will not survive being crushed by Amazon, there will be repurposing,” he says. “Recently I read about a shopping center in Georgia that was rezoned to be a warehouse for last mile delivery.” He predicts more shopping centers will become online fulfillment centers.

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Mastering the customer apology in time for the holiday shopping season

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The retail service apology is a delicate thing. From how it should be delivered to when it should be done, saying sorry is not as simple as it seems. In anticipation of the upcoming holiday shopping season, here are a few things to consider about why and how to apologize to customers.

The five-letter S word

The idea that an ill-timed or poorly delivered apology can have a negative effect is not limited to Seinfeld episodes. A working paper by Basil Halperin, referenced in the recent issue of Harvard Business Review magazine, indicates that, in some cases, apologizing multiple times is worse than not apologizing at all.

Further, it seems that what was said in the apology was less relevant than whether the customer received a corresponding coupon. In fact, Halperin’s research indicates that those who received an apology and a coupon actually increased their spending.

As retail leaders, how do we balance the positive implications of saving a customer with the costs associated with figuring out how, when and how much of a coupon to provide?

The one-ounce prevention

Most roads regarding customer service excellence lead back to either Nordstrom or Zappos. Both organizations are renowned for their ability to attract and retain loyal customers by giving customers what they want. Just like an apology, though, giving a customer what she wants is not as simple as it sounds.

Instead, practically speaking, preventing the issue warranting an apology is a great first step. Using last year’s holiday data and any recent service trends, leaders can narrow down a list of the most common problems their front-line teams are addressing in-person, on the phone or online.

With that short list, we can set out brief, targeted scenarios to help service representatives work through potential issues. While we may not all be able to empower seasonal support to use their best judgment at all times, we can give them simple scripts to follow to avoid common problems.

The one-pound cure

Shy of addressing every problem before it happens, we can also prepare our virtual, voice and in-person teams to address unforeseen issues with equally simple tools. For example, in their research on gratitude, Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School) and Adam Grant (Wharton), explain the myriad benefits of thanking people.

Gratitude, as they explain, helps the person who is thanked and the person who thanked her. It also helps people in the future who are served by the person who was thanked. Further, those who took the time to list all the things for which they were thankful were more attentive when serving others.

Again, practically speaking, how do we apply all this thankfulness on the ground during the holiday season? With simple, repeatable options.

For example, service reps can be asked to make short lists of things for which they are grateful before they start their shift. Leaders should be asked to stop by team members desks and acknowledge what they are doing and its importance to the business.

Teams should be provided goals or scripts that emphasize appreciating the customer in a genuine way, from acknowledging the time it took to come to the store to the opportunity they have provided us to address the problem. The proactive approach to gratefulness sets the stage for a positive response to issues.

The bottom line is, by keeping it simple and repeatable, we can set our front lines up for success this holiday season.

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All eyes on ‘very low GWP’ HFOs in the UK

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Refrigeration experts in the U.K. have called for the industry to embrace the potential of “lower flammability” hydrofluoro-olefin (HFO) blends, as the F-Gas regulations continue to drive the European market towards lower-carbon solutions — and as the Kigali amendment begins to do the same for the global market.

The call has been driven by supermarket giant Asda (part of the Walmart group), which has successfully conducted an in-store installation with the refrigerant R454A, an HFO with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 238.

The installation is being hailed by Asda as a “world-first” in that not only has the retailer reduced its GWP, but it has achieved operational costs better than the available alternatives, such as CO2.

It is the first use in a supermarket refrigeration setting of the “very low-GWP” HFO blends that are classified as A2L or “lower flammability.”

The use of the phrase “very low GWP” is being coined for refrigerants that are only slightly outside the “ultra-low” designation of under 150 GWP.

The store in Trafford Park, Manchester, U.K., has been hailed by Asda’s head of construction and design standards Brian Churchyard as the “world’s first truly commercially viable [retail refrigeration] HFO system.”

The move is expected to have consequences for the wider industry because Asda has announced its willingness to use its work on the development of the A2L system as the platform for an industrywide standard.

Speaking at RAC’s F-Gas Question Time on Oct. 9, he said: “Our aim is to create an A2L design standard over time so any lower flammability HFO can be used…As an industry we need to appreciate that what the F-Gas regulations have given us are refrigerant options that are either flammable, toxic or explosive, so we need to mitigate the risks.”

The R454A system at Trafford Park consists of a medium temperature application under 40 kW in capacity and below the 54 kg charge limit required by European Standard EN 378, and a low temperature application of around 15 kW capacity with an 11 kg refrigerant charge.

Asda’s confidence that it has the blueprint for an A2L refrigeration system stems from the fact that the Manchester installation has only come about after comprehensive trialing on a test installation at its Leeds site. It field-tested the HFO against other refrigerant options, including its existing standard and alternatives such as carbon dioxide.

He said the key was that even with “belt and braces” mitigation of the lower flammability aspect of the HFO, the system has been achieved at a significantly lower cost versus against the alternative F-gas compliant refrigeration systems trialed by Asda over the past decade.

He said: “Further energy savings have been achieved, verified through independent evaluation, and the maintenance requirements are very familiar for the existing service engineering base.” The system reliability and safety performance are expected to mirror the retailer’s current 99.96% uptime.

One key aspect of HFO refrigeration systems is to mitigate for the risks of the A2L refrigerant. Asda has initially taken a conservative approach, Churchyard said: “As no design standard exists for commercial refrigeration using an A2L, we treated it as if it was A3 [‘flammable’, such as propane and other hydrocarbon refrigerants].”

But as the development of the system continued, Asda assembled what it describes as “a large compendium of technical detail and data, trial findings and next steps.”

He said this data has proved vital: “Asda and its technical partners are now able to confidently assess where they can safely and viably align this standard to a 2L equivalent. It is important to stress that my objective isn’t working to an R45A standard, it’s a standard for A2Ls.”

Churchyard said that the intention is to give the finished A2L standard to the Institute of Refrigeration for it to be disseminated as an industry guide for a best practice.

He said: “It is important to state that Asda is technology agnostic. This is a solution that works for our operational model now. We believe there is no single refrigerant product that offers a solution for everything.”

The retailer is also proclaiming success with another “disruptive” innovation: its Mistral-ducted display case system, which replaces refrigerant pipework with ductwork distributing cold air to the cases. The system promises to save significant time and money in maintenance.

Churchyard said: “For instance, the removal of sales floor condensate drains has eliminated a known hazard and almost all serviceable parts have been removed from the display case.”

As it rolls out the system, it has achieved 50% savings in maintenance costs, Churchyard claims, along with 40% lower refrigerant gas charge and, most significantly, an 11% reduction in energy use.

He added: “Energy consumption is key to the retailer. Around 50% of our consumption is down to refrigeration — that is by quite a long way the biggest energy user.”

A further element in Asda’s refrigeration strategy is demand side management — shutting down and restarting refrigeration systems when required, which both supports grid balancing and saves money. This initiative currently creates up to 20 MW of “virtual power,” which can support up to 80,000 homes, Churchyard said. Asda’s aim is to double this in 2020.

As the F-Gas regulation continues with annual reductions in the “quota” of HFCs available to the market — and similar reductions start to be brought in globally under the Kigali amendments — and the drive continues towards lowering GWP of refrigerants, the cooling industry has been urged to focus on reducing the energy consumption of the system.

Consultant Ray Gluckman told the F-Gas Question Time audience: “It is vital to have a balance between energy consumption and direct emissions. There is no point in having systems with reduced GWP, if the energy goes up in the process.”

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How do you help staff climb a career ladder when there isn’t one?

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One of the issues that concerns small retailers is staff turnover. Human resources is the largest expenditure a retailer has to contend with, and when you add the cost of training and a less-efficient employee during training, you want to do everything you can to reduce turnover.

But turnover is especially problematic when your staff consists mostly of entry-level employees earning minimum wage or close to that: cashiers, stockers, floor clerks, etc. What career ladder is there to motivate a cashier to stay cashiering at one store? The prospect of one day possibly getting promoted to head cashier, if there is such a position? And then what?

It doesn’t seem like much of a future or hope for a better job.

I think that’s why I’ve seen cashiers move about from one store to another, but always in a cashier position. Some retailer dangles a carrot of $0.25 more per hour, and it seems like a promotion, like you’ve somehow climbed another rung on the success ladder.

But of course, that’s not the case. It’s the same job at a different place, and that’s where that person stays until a “better offer” comes along for 10 or 20 cents more per hour. Unhappy staffer and unhappy employer in a string of entry-level jobs.

There is a way out of this endless cycle for your entry-level employees. You might not have the kind of business structure that allows you to promote them on an actual career path, but perhaps you know another business colleague that does.

Remind these entry-level employees that their dedication to a job well done will further their career if they have aspirational ambitions. Perhaps their dream is cashiering today, veterinarian tomorrow. Let them know that you could recommend them to your colleagues for their work attributes, such as punctuality, dependability, initiative, collegiality, customer service, ethics, attention to details, stick-to-itness.

Those kinds of attributes are not task-dependent and are transferable to any career. Their work ethic in being the best cashier, for example, speaks volumes about their commitment to excellence, regardless of the industry that is their end goal.

Lest you think it sounds contradictory to help your employees realize a career path as a way of reducing turnover, accept that you will have turnover one way or another. But you can help determine whether that person stays one month or one year.

By and large, humans have an innate restlessness to find something better. By letting these employees know that their time with you will fulfill that longing in a productive way, you’ve elicited a better employee experience while that person is in your employ — and at the same time, you can feel a sense of gratification that you’ve touched someone’s life in a meaningful way and set them on the path of a better future.

I know one retailer who has hired plenty of young people and who is sincerely proud when they quit to attend higher learning, whether in a technical school or college. He honestly takes joy in their accomplishments.

What about the employees who have no end goal — the ones whose idea of a future career is which store they’re stocking on the midnight shift? Those are possibly the employees you can mentor, relating from your own experiences how one mundane job, well done, led to another and another.

Your life can be the example that when you’re serious about work, a career ladder is yours for the asking, waiting for you to create it, not have it handed to you.

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The folly of ‘they’re going to buy from someone; it may as well be you’

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When I was first starting out in sales many years ago, I was advised to regard every person I encountered as a viable sales prospect. It was just a matter of me persuasively demonstrating the benefits of what I had to sell that would convert them from looking to buying. Don’t discount anyone was the wisdom; they’re going to buy something from someone, so let it be you.

I was talking with a man who used to be a used car salesman. He, too, years ago was advised by his mentor in the business to aggressively approach every person kicking tires in the lot as a viable prospect. “They’re going to buy a car from someone, somewhere, so let it be you.”

Terrible advice. First of all, not everyone who is looking is really going to buy! Some people, and I know quite a few, just enjoy window shopping.

They have no intention of buying anything from anyone; their entertainment is to simply regard all the latest gadgets and widgets. That’s their form of entertainment. Period.

And while you’re wasting time trying to showcase the amazing benefits of a particular car — or a vacation package — to someone who has no serious interest in either, you could be missing out on the serious shopper who really does intend to buy and needs your advice on which product would best fit their needs.

Then there are those consumers who really do intend to buy but are not interested in the best product that meets their needs but the cheapest product. Those are the real time-wasters. They’ll fritter your time “picking your brains” to get the information they’re seeking, then likewise waste the time of all your competitors, too, until finally, they find it somewhere for the cheapest price, usually online. You’ve been used and have nothing to show for it.

When I get a phone call from a stranger, and the first words out of their mouth are, “Can I pick your brains on what might be a good honeymoon destination?” I know what they’re up to.

They plan on using me as a quick and free library resource so they can scout online for a cheap price my suggested destinations and hotels (without figuring in the value of my expertise). I have learned to weed them out by offering a consultation for X amount of dollars. That usually brings about a quick end to my “brain picking.”

What about the consumers who show up and announce, “Who wants to sell me a car?” Uh, let me avoid the stampede. If “nobody” wants to sell him a car, it’s probably for a good reason — like he’s a pain to work with and/or he doesn’t have the ability to buy a snow cone.

I had a gal call me recently who whined, “no travel agent will call me back.” Why not? Travel agents are happy to work with serious future vacationers. I learned the hard way why nobody would call her back: she was more problem than she was worth — and rude to boot. I wish I had been smart enough to be one of those travel agents who hadn’t called her back!

The upshot is that there’s a difference between indiscriminately discounting a viable shopper and treating all potential encounters as worthy of pursuit. Your time, your frustration, and your livelihood depend on finding that balance.

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When you’re too keen to make a sale at any cost

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It’s happened to me, and maybe it’s happened to you. You’re so keen to make a sale that you overrule the warning signs your gut is giving you.

I recently fielded a phone call from a distressed woman who needed help planning a honeymoon, but no other travel agents would speak with her. My first thought was, “Are you that much of a pain in the neck that no one will talk with you?” And as fast as that thought entered my head, it fled. Why didn’t I listen to myself?

After a week of working with this woman, spending countless hours of revisions on a honeymoon for no ultimate payoff, I realized how much smarter the other travel agents were for bypassing this woman as a client. Why did I ignore my gut and work a week for free on this noncustomer?

Well, I thought I could make a sale where others couldn’t, frankly. So keen to make a sale that I forgot to consider whether I even wanted this woman as a client.

A local hardware store manager told me recently that she had spent a good hour explaining the workings of a high-end barbeque grill and smoker to a browsing, interested customer.

Answered all his questions. Gave him recipes. Detailed the differences between this model and that model. He said he would think about it while he was out of town for a couple of days.

He was a phony. He actually spent the next day shopping competitors. He called the store manager, and the first words out of his mouth were, “The store down the street is willing to give me this and that. What are you going to give me?”

The manager related to me that then and there she knew she should have told him to take the offer from the other store. But no, keen to make a sale, she added this perk and that one.

He ended up buying the product online from a competitor, not at the store where he had consumed so much energy. And yet, when he decided he didn’t like the product after all, he called this manager—from the store where he did not buy the item — to see if they would return it for him to save him shipping charges.

The manager said to me, “I knew he was going to be trouble as soon as he asked what we were going to do for him. Why did I go out of my way to help this noncustomer?”

Why indeed.

Maybe it’s the competitive spirit inherent in many entrepreneurs. That sense of accomplishment and fulfillment when you ace a sale, finalize a contract, surpass your sales goals.

Maybe it’s ego. That sense that I can accomplish what others can’t. That’s dangerous ground to be on as it can cloud your judgment, as it did me.

But when you’re keen to make a sale at any price, I’ve learned that “any price” can be too much to pay.

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Grooming women leaders in retail

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Retail is often a first and safe stop for women entering or returning to the workforce because there is normally a low barrier to entry, flexible hours and, in some cases, a discount or service benefit for employees in addition to salary.

The problem is that advancement within the space can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Here are some ways to overcome those challenges and help more women grow into leaders.

The research

The studies and data summarized in this Harvard Business Review article make the case for more female leaders in retail and illustrate the efforts by large chains to reach gender parity across levels within their organizations. The authors summarize the 12 steps they show are critical to supporting the space, growth and development of women leaders in retail.

The practical challenge for smaller retail organization is finding a way to implement the extensive plan. In such cases where the lack of resources or simple size make the approach prohibitive, focusing on the three concepts can help.

Specifically, the authors recommend the following:

·Establish clear leadership commitment and accountability for gender equity.

·Implement employee-focused policies, benefits, and supports that advance gender equity.

·Provide structured career development for women.

The plan

By taking a more general approach to start, retailers of any size can begin to map out practical ways to help support the growth of women leaders within their organization.

For example, while creating a diversity task force may not be a practical first step for a smaller organization, simply committing to being held accountable for equity starts the conversation. Talking to employees about what that means to them or how it looks can result in a more responsive approach and a concrete first step.

Similarly, while it may be too expensive right now to implement a paid leave program, exploring the benefits provided by the employee assistance program and ensuring policies are updated and supported by all local and national leave laws are great, basic ways to start moving the organization in the right direction.

Finally, providing structured career development for women is critical to their growth across industries. Doing so in a small retail environment can again prove challenging because of a lack of resources (which could include a lack of time, money or even women to support).

In this case, it is critical to look at the challenges that prevent the organization from formally supporting its female employees. By understanding those limitations, we can look at addressing a specific problem and continue to make steps in the right direction.

The bottom line is that perfect cannot be the enemy of good. We can all agree that supporting women leaders in retail is good for everyone. We can likely agree, too, that the 12 steps articulated in the research are the way to make it happen.

However, smaller retail organizations are often challenged by fundamental issues like not having the internal resources or structure to implement the steps or even enough female employees to support. Instead of letting those obstacles stop great ideas from ever starting, take a step back and address the fundamentals that will give the organization the foundation to grow more supportive programs.

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Sears continues to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic

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Sears Roebuck, the embattled retail giant, recently unveiled a new logo designed to broaden its appeal to its core consumers. Unfortunately, what Sears had intended to appear as a combination of home and heart looks amazingly like the Airbnb logo.

We can wonder why no one involved with what was likely an extremely expensive redesign process thought to look and make sure the logo was unique, but there’s a bigger question: Why on earth is Sears redoing its logo now anyway?

The company has been on a downhill slide for a number of years, losing both money and market share since the merger with Kmart 15 years ago. Various strategies to get back on track have failed dismally.

Changing the logo is a typical tactic for companies in trouble. And, typically, it doesn’t work when the organization has the deep-seated problems of a company like Sears.

The sad part is that this didn’t have to happen. Sears had all the right pieces in place to succeed — even to be Amazon — long before Amazon even existed:

  • Sears had a physical presence in every community in America.
  • It had a direct marketing method (catalogs) that reached most Americans on a regular basis.
  • It had the clout and buying power to drive suppliers and brands to come along with them.
  • And, most importantly, it had the confidence and trust of their targeted customer base.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sears was so busy being Sears that the company couldn’t see outside of the box. Even as Amazon began to evolve from an online bookstore to a full service online merchant, and Target and Walmart stole customers with a better value proposition for shoppers, Sears doubled down on its existing strategy.

It was the cornerstone of the American mall and it intended to stay that way — despite the fact that the American mall is now a virtual, online presence.

Where are we today? Amazon has usurped the position of Sears and many other brick-and-mortar retailers. Not only does it offer a selection of goods that can’t be matched by any other retailer, it has thrown in free shipping with Prime, automatic reordering with Dash, grocery deliveries with AmazonFresh, digital content delivery, and additional services introduced on a regular basis.

Amazon didn’t invent the retailing concepts behind these services. The genesis for most of them came from old-school retailers like Sears, J.C. Penney, and even Kmart. Amazon just figured out how to apply those concepts to the 21st-century digital world in a new and better way than anyone else.

And Sears? It is practically on life support as it continues to hemorrhage cash and search for a place to fit in today’s retailing world.

There was a time when people trusted Sears enough to even buy build-it-yourself home kits from the company — selling more than 70,000 home kits between 1908 and 1940. Today, instead of sailing ahead of the competition, Sears appears to be focused on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But those chairs all have a nice bright new logo.

Image: CNN

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3 ways to better manage retail sales staffing

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The best business schools have always praised two things: efficiency and numbers. So, in retail, when sales go down, it makes sense to cut staff and hours, right? And from this “cut” mindset, we look for minimums: how few people do we need to stay open? What other costs can we cut to save money?

Then, when we look at the bottom line, we see results from doing this and continue the same behaviors. However, this approach is not sustainable, and it excludes consideration of critical data that is less easy to measure but just as impactful on the bottom line.

Instead of continuing to cut, here are a few considerations to better manage sales staffing.

Hello, data

We have schedules, sales results and POS details — it is time to start looking at this data differently. Instead of looking at minimums, use the date to find out how many team members must be available to maximize sales.

Get a firm grip on sales trends as the day progresses and compare similar situations to answer to determine the sweet spot between sales person presence and increase sales.

In addition, we must realize all locations are not the same. Competition, hours, physical layout, flow, and the local community may make staffing requirements vary even if we only have a couple of locations.

By understanding the positive impact staff presence can have on sales and noting that that presence might translate differently in different locations, we can mine our existing data to understand the positive impact adding staff can have instead of just the cost impact of cutting staff.

(For detailed methodologies on crunching the numbers and to geek out on research around the positive impact of sales person presence, check out this research from HBR.)

Oh, the choices!

In addition to data, sales success is all about differentiators. We must start looking at what our experience offers the customer as a basis for understanding the variables we can directly impact to make that experience better.

For example, if it is just as easy for someone to go to our location as a competitors’, or buy online instead of coming in, our experienced salespeople can be a competitive differentiator. Consider the basic difference between visiting an Ace Hardware store and a Home Depot.

While it may be possible to pay less at a big box competitor, a local, knowledgeable team may provide more value and a more positive experience.

The bottom line is, by revisiting data we have already collected, we can expand our understanding of customer flow and the relationship between staffing and sales. We can use this data going forward to look at staffing maximums instead of minimums and then exploit the in-person experience as a differentiator from both larger competitors and online retailers.

Numbers and efficiency are critical components of managing costs, but maximizing staff impact on sales instead of minimizing staff impact on costs can be an important shift to achieve better numbers.

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What’s old is new again in retail for 2019

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Regardless of age or profession, every citizen in a small town understands retail’s fundamental principles: trust, word of mouth and network.

As Amazon, voice-controlled devices, and smart homes change the way consumers and retail interact, these fundamental principles of human interaction will continue to become more important.

Here are three old practices that will enjoy renewed importance in the year to come.


As technology simplifies and expands our reach, it will simultaneously make our interpersonal interactions more important. Social media has captured our attention because of its ability to so quickly convey timely information, both positive (flash sales, new product launches, etc.) and negative (bad reviews, recalls, etc.).

However, the importance of social media notwithstanding, it is critical for physical shop owners to double down on the in-person experience.

Whether we run a flower shop or grocery store, the community that walks in to our business every day deserve our priority. To do so, we have to figure out what it is we offer them that they would miss if we were gone.

Is it convenience? Service? Product line? Seth Godin, the master of all things marketing, notes simply in this Entrepreneur article and his new book: “This is Marketing,” that we must ensure we are not “hunting” for attention, but rather working to “attract” it.

Thus, first we must figure out what differentiates us to our core customers and build on the characteristics that continue to attract them.

Word of Mouth

The next step is to leverage both social media and our core customer base to maximize word of mouth.

One excellent way brick-and-mortar stores can do this that others cannot is by emphasizing the differentiator that is a physical storefront. In other words, to get people to drive instead of surf, our stores must provide a compelling experience.

Looking to the extremes can provide hints and trends as to best practices in this area. For example, Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, is adamant that her core product, cupcakes, are best when experienced in-person, in the shop.

She has likened visiting one of her stores to a pilgrimage and instead of shipping cupcakes, Sprinkles only distributes a limited number of mixes. This reinforces the importance of both her core product and her storefronts.

Thus, the next step: get clear on ways to make the in-person experience definable, unique and memorable so that we can continue to reinforce it to our core customers and in our social media.


Finally, rethinking our networks is another basic worth revisiting. Like those small-town principles, there may be local relationships tarnished by something done long ago; relationships never started because of some now-forgotten slight; or new roads not taken simply because they are new.

In each case, to maximize the impact of the in-person experience, we have to reconsider our current network and look in both old and new places for ways to expand partnerships, referrals and other mutually beneficial relationships.

The bottom line is: while technology continues to propel us into more relationships, faster; the underlying retail trend for 2019 will be the focus on optimizing our storefronts’ in-person relationship differentiators to strengthen the mutually beneficial relationships we have with our customers.

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