While shopping for presents this week I was struck by how many stores already have sales on.  What are they going to do in January I wonder?   Discounting has been the knee-jerk response of retailers to this latest economic downturn but if everything is always on sale, “sales” will quickly lose their value as a way of attracting shoppers into stores.   The current economic climate is here to stay for quite some time yet so retailers are going to have to get smarter about how they market to shoppers.

Debenhams Has A Sale On

Many purchasing decisions are not made on price but on convenience and customer experience and the retailers who want to survive the current storm would do well to look at how they can improve their customer experience.  While it is true we are all spending less these days, we are choosing where we spend the money we do have and retailers should be doing everything they can to make sure that we are spending it with them.

And there is certainly plenty of room to improve the current customer experience we get from the majority of retailers!  How many times have you asked a shop assistant or call centre rep a question and realised that they know even less about the product than you?  Have you experienced that comedy moment when the assistant picks up the product and just reads what is on the back of the label to you?  How many times have you stood in a long queue being taunted by a row of unmanned checkouts whose sole purpose appears to be to let you know that the store could make your checking out experience much better if only they could be bothered to put any staff on the tills?  The Marks & Spencer food outlets are an exception to that rule, as soon as the queue starts building up someone rings the bell and staff stacking shelves will quickly hop onto the tills to ease the pressure.  A simple solution but one overlooked by most.  How many stores have you walked into and walked straight out of because the queue was just too long?

This doesn’t just apply to in-store customer experience.  Whoever invented automated phone menus should be shot.  Don’t make me sit through a never-ending list of menus, just pick up the phone and talk to me!  It wouldn’t be so bad if, after having keyed in my customer number, my date of birth, the first 3 digits of my security code and my inside leg measurement, the real person you finally get to speak to didn’t ask you to repeat all that data again.  Improvements can be made to online shopping as well, but stores such as Amazon have really raised the bar when it comes to convenience and customer service and their market leading position is undoubtedly as a direct result of that.

Most retailers are way behind when it comes to truly embracing the digital revolution at an organisational level in their businesses and they are missing a trick there.   Most now have an online presence but few think of their online and bricks and mortar as one holistic piece.  In fact, you will often find that the online sales and marketing director will be competing on sales figures with their bricks and mortar counterpart.   More and more stores are becoming showrooms where shoppers can touch and feel but then go online to purchase.  It is a fact that is not going to go away so retailers should embrace it and do everything they can to ensure that the purchase happens through one of their channels rather than that of a competitor. Try this: we don’t have it in that colour in this store but let me order it for you now online and it will be shipped to your door tomorrow morning.   Simple, but why do I never hear that in a store?  It works both ways:  I have found the book I want to buy online but it is not going to arrive in time for John’s birthday, tell me which of your stores have it in stock and I will go and buy it from there.

Retailers need to do a much better job of keeping us customers in their stores, be that in a virtual or real world, and the way they are going to do that is by improving the customer experience and not by discounting.


Thanks to Simon Greig for taking the photograph in this blog that so aptly illustrated my point.


  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Liz. Retailers have to stop seeing sales as the panacea for all their ills, and start to address the elephant in the room: which is figuring out why shoppers don’t want to be in their stores unless they “pay them” to be there (with discounts).

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