COLUMN /
Mike van der Hulst

I am a strong believer to the fact that in business people can make all the difference in the world. In retail I feel, more than in any other market, people really come first. For someone to actually buy that new product, the entire journey needs to be up to par. We all know what I am talking about, you will not buy the product if the quality is off, the sales assistant is rude, the online cart is too complex, pricing is off, etc. etc.​ But tell me, when ​do​ ​y​ou buy? ​

Few sectors are changing as quickly and profoundly as retail. Retail has long been a one-way street where retailers and brands have dictated the relationship between themselves and their customers. But as the balance of power has increasingly shifted towards consumers, who could publically complain, retailers see their voice slowly become less important.

Apparently successful in getting the message across, during a talk by one of the founders of PicNic, a new Dutch company delivering a supermarket-on-wheels (‘SRV’ like) distribution and delivery concept for groceries, it got me thinking.  When has it started to be normal to go from my home, to a store, preferably by car, park, struggle finding the right articles for the right price, wait in line to be allowed to pay, pack stressfully, go back to the service desk because you did not get your discount and then get started on the return trip and unpack, only to find out you forgot an item? Sounds like it’s time for ‘the next Ford, rather than a better horse’-concept for supermarkets. What will that concept be?

 

In the meantime, while we all continue shopping between bricks- and-mortar and online shopping experiences, I see retailers are looking for new ways to replicate the speed and ease of online shopping, in-store. This focus on the relationship between the brand and consumer's ease-of-use is good, ​yet ​I feel one ingredient is often forgotten ​that could potentially have an even bigger impact - staff. Did you know that the best performing brands in the world also account for the highest grades when it comes to empowered and engaged staff? Quite logical when you come to think about it, as they have the best chance to make the sale in every channel or touchpoint. I am sure that when you think about your best retail experience, it was an employee making the difference.

With the geopolitical and economics in 2017, retailers should prepare for what could be a difficult year. In a world where omnichannel retailing is the standard, there is not one retail brand marketleader in both online and offline. Think about it, not one. So for most retailers it should not be the goal to be the biggest and best on all channels, but rather to focus on the primary channel and treat the rest of the channels and touchpoint as a support group. While that happens it’s all about finding the equilibrium where retailers are listening increasingly to consumers’ needs without losing their own point of view. What differentiates a business, is it the experience, staff, service or product, or a combination? 

After that look at yourself, we are all consumers​ after all. What would you like?

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