The start of a fresh decade always brings a new wave of hope, optimism and a fair bit of trepidation and angst. This would also accurately describe the mood in the retail industry at the moment. After the seismic economic shifts in the past 15 months, it is easy to understand why retailers of all shapes and sizes are looking at their world through a brand new prism and it isn’t because the calendar says they should – it’s because the customer has changed.

The meltdown in the financial markets, unthinkable in this day and age just 18 months ago, has shaken people’s confidence and trust in their investing and banking activities. By nature, most have turned more cautious and circumspect in their daily lives and their spending habits. Retailers are now scrambling to re-visit their merchandising strategies and core business philosophies. They may eventually come out stronger and smarter but they will all have something in common – a change in their outlook and their business practices somehow, some way.

In light of this new customer mentality, I propose the following “To Do” list of actions in order to respond to the sluggish economic climate we are in (or slow pace of recovery, whichever theory you ascribe to) in order to help maximize positive customer response and enticement to keep (or start) buying from you. The following list is not necessarily in order of priority…

1) Clearly delineate a “Good, Better, Best” merchandising philosophy in order to give your customers an effective range of price points from which he/she can make an informed decision. This will give the customer a sense of empowerment and feeling better about his/her purchase.

2) Invest in recruiting, hiring and training your staff geared towards handling multiple customers effectively. Gone are the days where stores can afford to be overstaffed and provide dedicated one on one service for an indefinite period of time in store. If you are online, continue to invest in your back end to ensure an ever easier and quicker experience for each customer.

3) Leverage the internet or direct mail in order to promote your assortment and brand. It has not been proven that social networking sites have had a positive stimulus on sales but it helps with awareness. The most cost effective way to communicate with customers is via e-mail blasts. Ensure you are collecting names from people who walk into the store or browse online and acquiring lists that build your database.

4) Invest in colour. It’s time. People want to feel a little joy and happiness in their wardrobe again.

5) Look at complementary categories that could boost productivity in your existing footprint. If you offer women’s clothing, can you offer some great men’s pieces that they will buy for their significant other? Can you squeeze in some kids accessories in your drug store footprint or online? Do jewelry towers offer a compelling way to boost sales per square foot?

6) Keep a positive yet realistic outlook for your staff. Communicate often even to say ” I don’t know yet”. If the leadership remains optimistic but grounded, the staff will respond positively. This communication style will provide enough motivation without having to be a cheerleader. Honesty, transparency and clear strategies are what is needed as you chart a new course in this new decade.

This should be a good start. Here is hoping that your customers don’t let “…Auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…” and that they come storming back to your stores and sites in droves this year and beyond.

TheRetailTherapist 🙂