Now is the independent retailer’s time to shine

Following our Turning Point Summit on the future of retail, Justin Binks, director of Sebo UK, takes up the theme and says independent retailers should prepare to do battle and bring out the big guns in what could be a fight for survival

With 30,000 retail job losses forecast in 2017* and post-Brexit hikes from suppliers, the UK’s independent retailers must prepare for a tough 12 months.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The independents have one major advantage against the sheds, and now is the perfect time to play it.

In the past four or five years, many large retailers have significantly cut back on staff, particularly trained advisers on the shopfloor. It has got to the point where decent, face-to-face customer service, is on the verge of extinction.

Now is the independent retailer’s time to shine. Shout it from the rooftops – if you shop at an independent, you will speak to real people, with years of experience.

The good news for independents is that shoppers are becoming increasingly disenchanted and frustrated by the poor levels of service they are getting from the multiples. Use the situation to your advantage and there’s a genuine chance of successfully competing on experience rather than price alone this year.

So, what clear messages should the independents be promoting?

I’d recommend starting by explaining how the retail experience will be so very different. A real person will be on hand to greet a customer, explain things and reassure them, without piling on the pressure.

It’s also worth pushing the point that the same person will be there if you have any questions post-purchase, and will happily help with any maintenance or repair issues.

By contrast, in the multiples, staff are on rota seven days a week, and employee turnover is much higher, so it’s unlikely you’ll see the same person twice.

It has got to the point where decent, face-to-face customer service, is on the verge of extinction

Many believe that the trend for shopping online will also have an impact on this year’s increasingly cutthroat UK retail environment. A situation that, arguably, cannot be remedied by even the most highly respected, top-rate customer service and aftercare. After all, if you are buying from the comfort of your sofa, it’s unlikely you’ll be expecting personal product training. However, when it comes to electrical goods, buying ‘blind’ doesn’t always pay, and this is another message that independents need to get across.

Sebo’s sales team offers full training, ensuring that independents are completely clued-up on all the features and benefits. As technology becomes increasingly advanced, the value of this hands-on support will likely grow.

For example, Sebo’s Automatic X range of upright vacuums features computer-controlled height adjustment. A fully-trained retailer will be able to explain how it works, and, more importantly, why it is better than manually-controlled alternatives and thus worth the extra investment.

Do highlight the honesty on offer. So many online stores use planted testimonials and reviews – imported very often from a brand’s own online store. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to cut through the puff to genuine recommendations and advice. However, when you visit an independent, you will be privy to genuine advice from someone who lives and breathes for the electrical industry and so can explain the latest innovations – as well as what’s not good value.

Admittedly, getting the message out there, and through to potential customers can be tricky, but this is where independents can play on their localism.

It’s important to get customers to relate to your business as part of their locality. And however you send it, the message should be clear – we offer the personal service you simply will not get anywhere else.

[* Source: Centre for Retail Research]