Thursday 12 December 2019

What’s Really Happening On The High Street?

With the run up to Christmas now in full swing you’ll often hear how important this time of the year is for retailers. November and December sees businesses take upwards of 30% of their yearly money in just two months, so you can understand just how much importance is placed upon the festive period. There has been a lot of talk about the death of the high street and the end of retail “as we know it” but what is it really like on the front line? In an effort to understand what is actually happening on the shop floor I temporarily returned to my retail roots and became, once again, one of the many beacons in black.

When I first worked in retail the fragrance and beauty industry was a thriving and exciting place to be. We were surrounded by beautiful products, wonderful perfumes, and customers that were very loyal to their favourite brand. With the explosion of the internet, bloggers, and the “influencer”, people started to turn away from their regular consultant and instead took the advice of these electronic strangers. Whilst it was wonderful that there was so much information available to fragrance fans it did mean that the consultants employed by the companies faced the uphill task of battling the preconceptions of the review-led customers.

One of the pleasures of working within the industry were the regular training sessions that were provided for consultants. These days away from the store helped to cement the bond between the company and yourself. So, in a time when knowledge is key, you would expect training to remain constant. It has actually decreased, with much now being transferred online, and there's an increasing push for consultants to complete it in their own time. Many of them feel that this lack of personal investment by the companies has resulted in their lack of passion for the brands. Savings always have to be made but are cuts in training really the way to go?

Many articles talk about customers being met by a lack of salespeople in the beauty halls. This is a very real problem and not simply a case that the consultant is “on their break”. It seems that the uncertainty around where retail is heading has meant that many vacancies have been put on hold. Where you would have had two people working together you now have one, and a reliance on surrounding counters to help out. It’s this lack of consistency that upsets regular customers and, while a dash-by purchaser probably wouldn’t notice, it’s creating a loyal following that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Let’s assume that you’ve got a knowledgeable consultant and you’re ready to purchase. This is where we really seem to find the problem with the high street. The stock in a large department store is not governed by the actual companies. This means that after you’ve sprayed the tester, and found the perfume that you love, it might not actually be available to buy. It’s at this point that many customers turn to their phones and order online. They’ve tried to remain loyal, they’ve tried to buy in a store, but the sale will go to the faceless basket and a promise of next day delivery.

So you see, it feels as though it’s a combination of a lack of investment in the development of the consultants and the availability of the products. Knowledgeable and welcoming salespeople cannot be replicated online, that’s what makes face to face shopping so enjoyable, but none of that counts if you can’t walk out of the shop with your purchase packed into a bag emblazoned with the company’s name. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of training the faces of the many brands out there because they are the voice that a customer hears and, ultimately, the voice that they remember.

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