The Nation: How to survive recession, by retailers

There are growing concerns for the survival of many businesses, especially as the recession bites harder. For retail businesses, the concerns are just the same. However, for a retail merchant worth who knows his onions there’s a way out.

Patience Agelibe, who runs a chain of small retail stores, has since devised ways of coping with the recession. Agelibe, mindful of the threat posed by the bullish big stores that have the wherewithdal to run their business, including giving away products at the cheapest rates, said efficient delivery of customer service was necessary to win new prospects and old customers.

Similarly, Delightsome Stores Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mrs. Modupe Shopeju, said: “It has to do with the strategy employed by the store, big or small.”

She said: “Naturally, the retail climate favours big-box stores that can offer bargains. But because small retailers cannot win price wars, they need to leverage their biggest advantage over the chains. Small stores owners are aware that personal relationships with customers and the ability to deliver superior service remains one strategy that keeps businesses thriving. This strategy has been the secret of many successful retail business over the years.”

As shoppers become more value focused, some are turning toward big-box retailers. Therefore, the small ones can bolster sales by targeting wealthier shoppers who are less price-sensitive and may pay premiums for better service. Upper-income households often perceive value in different ways from lower-income shoppers, Shopeju added.

Independent retailers who are willing to survive the recession, experts have advised, need to court their best customers in the market they are targeting. Maximising the one-on-one relationships  with customers is also a major factor. And one way to do that, they said, is through affinity discounts that encourage loyal customers spend more, rather than trying to attract new business by cutting prices across the board.

Going to customer base and mailing out to their best customers this they argue it’s a lot smarter than putting a 70 per cent off sign in front of one’s store.

Experts also advised that through affinity programmes, retailers can strengthen their relationships with their best customers and appeal to those shoppers’ bargain-hunting at the same time. Beyond customer service, they said retailers should keep inventories lean to reduce costs  and be vigilant in refusing late orders as well as watching for over shipments to avoid having merchandise they would not be able to sell.

In addition, small retailers can take a cue from large chains that display as much merchandise as possible on the floor, rather than holding inventory in the stockroom.

Likewise, stores should watch their staff levels to control costs. They want to staff to the peak hours as much as they can. That means mostly in evenings and weekends, as most two-income families have little time to shop during the day. Businesses might decide to open later in the morning and extend hours at night to reach more customers without needing to staff more hours.

Marketing companies are experimenting with new digital technologies to pitch to consumers while they shop. These include interactive dressing-room mirrors, kiosks with virtual customer-service representatives, shopping carts and digital scanners that offer personalised discounts.

The experts also noted innovative ways for marketers to connect with customers as part of efforts to better understand what consumers buy and to encourage companies to rethink their approaches to their roles.

However, for retailers grappling with lacklustre sales and consumers, who are dissatisfied with say online shopping with its related interactivity becoming mainstream, retail experts have advised retailers to continue to explore investment opportunities that can drive traffic to their outlets.

They said there were strategies for retail businesses to survive in harsh economies, such as having a short-term tactical approach to improve performance and increase efficiencies that will drive sales, as well as medium to longer term strategic choices that will deliver sustainable and incremental growth.

Location of the stores and product category are strategies which they think the retail giants always take into consideration.

Citing Shoprite, they said the retailer has always been about the customers and has continued with its CSR initiatives and customer loyalty regardless of the recession.

The proximity to any Shoprite store, they said, had made shopping  convenient for customers, noting that about 80 percent of the goods on the shelves are indigenous.

Lending credence to the issue, the Business Development Manager of Chastest Consult, Ini Archibong, who is the Public Relations (PR) Consultant to Shoprite, noted that the monthly in-house and online competition in which lots of shopping voucher is given away among other loyalty programmes, are some of the time-tested principles that is working for the big retail stores like Shoprite.

For the  Executive, Director Polo Luxury Group, Jennifer Obayuwana, despite the recession, excellent customer service remains a top priority at Polo Luxury.

“Arguably, the recession is making shoppers of luxury goods look inward to what is available locally as shoppers save on flight fare. This is excellent for the Polo Luxury brand as it sticks to quality and authentic goods. Customers do not have to spend the extra travel fare, yet are accessible to the same quality of products and after-sales care they would have abroad at home.”

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