When Stephen Covey presented his 7 Habits, he created a template for success that many people in business adopted as their mantra. Could there be a list of successful traits that are identifiable in retail stores? Qualities that separate the great from the good?
Here is my list:
Great retail stores are always ‘authentic’. In the world of spirituality being authentic means as expressed directly from the source. In business, and especially in retail, it means ensuring that you deliver the promise.
The authentic store is reliable and trustworthy. Its products are dependable, realistic and true to the DNA of the store. Over time, customers begin to recognize these qualities and then to expect them. The store which strays from these self-created confines is very quickly identified as a fake.
Authenticity is a very big word which takes much effort to achieve. And yet is an essential goal for a great organisation.
Many retail stores are able to be good some of the times. Some are good a lot of the times. But, whether it is in terms of their range and variety of products or the standards of service, great retailers are consistently able to deliver their promise ‘all the time’.
This calls for an extreme level of commitment of human and other resources, buying knowledge and employee training. Once standards have been set, they must be delivered.
The retailer is seen as a curator of products. Customers feel assured that someone with proficiency has created a special selection for them. This level of comfort can only come with domain expertise.
An understanding of what the customer wants, the ability to find the best fit and a knowledge of present and future trends. The principle stands true whether in the field of fashion, where style and design are defined by the brand, furniture, where living styles are constantly evolving, or for a large hypermarket, which is able to anticipate and provide almost anything that a customer may be looking for at a price that they expect.
As with most businesses, success comes by starting with the customer. Great retailers are able to identify with their customers going deep into fathoming what moves them. For this they understand their interests, tastes, preferences, pastimes, buying habits and other such criteria and then ensure that they and the customers are fully aligned.
The focus on the customer is reflected in every aspect of the business, including in the way she is treated in the store, and especially when there are problems, by solving them easily and quickly.
This is a defining quality for greatness. Passion is the hunger energising the business to keep exceeding itself, innovating, improving and finding new and better ways of doing things. In the midst of all difficulties it is the intangible strength which pushes the business to greater heights.
The great retailer surprises and delights its customers. This requires a constant quest for innovation; exploring new concepts and ideas; finding new and different products; unveiling style ideas and stories in the store; creating captivating window displays and unique visual merchandising;, staff going above and beyond to thrill the customer; constantly evolving store designs; exciting in-store theatre; and unique and interesting communications whether above- or below-the-line. Standing still in the same place is not an option. There is always an attempt to surprise the customer — and yet remain authentic.
The retailer who is able achieve all these qualities, establishes a lasting and sustaining relationship with his customers.
The ultimate goal of any organisation is to establish a base of loyal customers, and to find ways to keep expanding this base. Once established, great retailers find ways to make these members feel special and privileged so that they become advocates and supporters widening the base further and further.
There are a number of great retailers around the world. Many have had their shingles up for over a century. To have the ability and stamina to continuously delight customers over such extended time frames requires a special institutionalised skill traversing right through the organisation.
Our region is of course not that old, but there are a number of retail gems with outstanding reputations here as well. Look around and you will spot them.
For those who are still on the journey to greatness, the road is hard and long. But the goal is achievable.
The writer is a senior executive with a leading retail group.