5 strategies to help retailers remain competitive in a challenging market

Photo: Buda Mendes/ Getty Images.

It’s been one big rollercoaster ride for Australian retailers.

Over the last two years, one of our most iconic and longest standing department stores, David Jones, has been privatised resulting in a South African retail group taking over the reins.

We’ve witnessed the demise of the Dick Smith chain, its online resurrection by Ruslan Kogan, as well as Woolworths pull the plug on its homewares business Masters.

Increased competition and uneven playing fields have been a matter of contention for retailers over the last decade, and it’s only just heating up. Amazon, the world’s largest and most powerful retailer, is eyeing Australian shores.

It’s a move which has everyone, from the independent book store down the street, to Wesfarmers — currently one of Australia’s best performing retail stocks — worried on how this will impact the retail landscape.

Being a fourth generation family retail business, it’s upsetting when Australian household brands change ownership or worse, go into receivership resulting in devastating flow-on effects for Australian jobs and families. Yet the reality is that it’s a challenging market, especially within the consumer electronics space and all Australian businesses, no matter how big or small, facing increased offshore competition.

There are testing times ahead but the current climate is the wake up call the broader retail industry desperately needs.

Here are my top predictions for tactics needed to win the retail war:

Manpower

Running a lean and efficient system is a must for any online business, however if no employee ever interacts with any order, the said retailer is clearly outsourcing its customer support — an important window of opportunity where online retailers can put a face to their brand.

Underestimating the power of human interaction is a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day people buy from people; the biggest fallacy about online retail is that you don’t have to deal with your customers. Invest in your staff and create a culture that breeds exceptional customer service.

Make lasting impressions

First impressions last, but when it comes to the user journey the last impression trumps; it’s what your customer will remember about your business and likely share with the rest of the world. Retailers that successfully invest in the last leg of the customer journey will leave a lasting impression and reap the benefits.

Customer intelligence

Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images.

Whilst utilising customer data is nothing new, we’re yet to see retailers successfully augment CRM, analytics and telephony data sets. Adopting a scientific approach to all data will help forge closer relationships with customers and lead to more tailored and streamlined user experiences.

Greater transparency

Trust is key. Retailers that are upfront and honest with customers will earn respect and repeat business. Compare the Market’s decision to disclose the fee it receives through selling health insurance is just one recent example highlighting the growing importance of transparency.

Instant gratification

Whether it’s communication, delivery or post-sale customer support, retailers need to scale to cater to heightened customer expectations. This won’t be an easy task, especially considering Australia is one of the most geographically difficult countries to operate in, but the speed at which orders are fulfilled will be a top consideration for consumers.

John Winning is the CEO of Winning Group and founder of Appliances Online.

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