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Beware the Apocalypse

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I’ve got a friend who, in years gone by before I knew her – used to run a celebrity dead pool. It’s just a shame she wasn’t still doing it in 2016… Everyone would have won something. I bet it was an expensive year for the bookies that accepted celebrity death betting too.

Apparently, the overall toll was actually higher in 2014. But it was just the ‘star quality’ that made 2016 hit people hard. David Bowie; George Michael; Alan Rickman; Prince; Mohammed Ali; Carrie Fisher; Victoria Wood; Terry Wogan….

Seriously, it got to the stage where some people I knew were reluctant to open the newspaper or read news online for fear of jinxing another celebrity death.

And, of course, we all talked about it.

Bye bye, businesses…

But one death toll that often seems to slip by unnoticed is that of businesses.

According to a study of 500 British town centres, In the first half of last year over 2,500 high street stores closed. That’s equivalent to 14 every day.

And when we look at the big guns, it reads like a celebrity who’s who. Staples; The Post Office; Banana Republic; American Apparel; BHS; Jamie’s Italian; Next; Marks & Spencer; Homebase. Toys R Us…

Ok, not all of them have gone completely out of business but have had to make cutbacks and so some of their stores have bitten the dust. For example, Jamie Oliver has shut 6 of his 42 Italian restaurants around the UK.

Toys R Us actually filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in September and was on the verge of collapse in the UK in December last year, but they brokered a deal with creditors at the 11th hour. They are still having to close almost 25% of their 105 UK stores though.

Across the pond, the story is the same. Sears Canada not only put 12,000 people out of work when it filed for bankruptcy in June 2017, but also left 13,000 retired, former employees with a pension shortfall of around £158 million.

According to one North American retail analyst, the onset of this ‘retail apocalypse’ is like “Darwinian theory and the weak are being culled from the herd”.

What’s changed?

The fact that the analyst refers to it as a culling of the weak is rather frightening. Because let’s face it, a lot of these are big names and certainly not businesses I would think of as weak. Some of these businesses have been around longer than I can remember.

Why do businesses hit this wall though? And why now? And what can the rest of us learn from it?

Shopping, whether for products or services, is all about the user experience. Customers have always wanted an emotive user experience. That’s what keeps people going back for more and drives customer loyalty.

The problem is, bricks and mortar stores don’t seem to be required anymore to help amass consumer satisfaction.

These days I know very few people who can’t wait to physically go shopping.

I am guilty of it myself and don’t think I left the house for anything other than groceries in the run up to Christmas. Stockings were filled at the click of a button.

That’s half the issue. With just a few clicks, we can order exactly what we want and have it delivered in a matter of days. Sometimes even hours.

And it’s not just products. We can do the same with insurance and a whole host of other things, all from the comfort of our favourite armchair.

Then add to that all the value driven stores who garner market share and customer loyalty because of their impressive discounts… Well, you can see the problem.

When having an emotive or favourable customer experience means you don’t need to leave home (always a bonus in the middle of winter) or won’t have a hole in your pocket where your money used to be, there’s no real surprise that people opt to go down this route.

What’s the solution?

As for bricks and mortar businesses, it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Of course, consumers love discounted products and services that still retain their quality. An internet presence is always a bonus too.

Combining competitive pricing, a clear brand strategy and a strong online presence can prove to be a winning formula for the modern business.

But it also needs to be about more than that. It needs to be about the experience.

There’s a bookstore I have read about in Canada that is leaving its main competitors in the cold because it’s no longer just selling books and is pitching itself as more of a lifestyle store.

Along with the latest best seller, you can also pick up luxury throw blankets and gourmet jams. And presumably hot chocolate or fancy teas. So, when you get home, you’re clearly not just curling up with a good book.

Basically, if you want to encourage customers to get off their couch and come and see you, you need to offer a little something extra, such as extremely knowledgeable staff, easy returns, engaging displays and more.

Of course, to be able to pinpoint what the ‘je ne said quoi’ that will set you apart is, you need to understand your customers’ needs and wants.

That’s where we come in. Here at the Monachie Project, our user experience analysis and consulting can help you view your business from a customer perspective. Meaning you can develop more effective strategies for reaching and engaging with consumers.

Get in touch for a no obligation discussion today and ensure you avoid the apocalypse.

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