Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thoughts About My Retail Experience...Now Past

Having spent the last five years as a retailer, I find myself still following trends and predictions, even though I closed my store. In my case, the economy won this round. Who knows what will come, but for the moment, I am looking for expanded ways to make a living. A Renaissance life, perhaps!

Nonetheless, I read with interest some of the analysis at the start of this new year about the retail outlook for 2010. The prognosticators say:

  1. Those who survived 2009 will find less competition. So many businesses closed (by choice or forced) that the landscape in most industries is, in fact, different. I know it’s true in the medical supply/equipment world. The trend started well before we opened Capabilities. We believed our concept, unique and focused on disposable income and not so much on insurance, is still the wave of the future, we believe. And, it was working for the first three years we were opened. It was the unexpected recession hitting so deeply and widely that pushed our model to the limit. With less income, customers wanted only what insurance covered. And that is just not a lot.
  2. Store expansion will continue at a snail’s pace, so there will be leverage to renegotiate with landlords on space. Retailers still “open for business” can work on repackaging rent and other fixed expenses.
  3. The jury is still out on whether or not there will be more access to business credit as the banks weigh carefully just how much credit they want to extend.
  4. Consumers are slowly, slowly spending again. They will still want to buy things on sale, so big profits are most likely not on the horizon for retailers.
  5. In any industries affiliated with health care and insurance it is certain consumers will want whatever they can reasonable get through insurance, if they have it. Tightening the belt will continue with consumers, the experts say, so retailers in any industry have to respond to this demand for rock bottom pricing.
  6. Dollar stores and high end luxury retailers will emerge as the stronger players.
  7. While Boomers led the last decade with a consumer spending spree, Gens X and Y will most likely lead the recovery. “The engine of the Boomer has run out of gas,” says Lois Huff, senior vice president of Retail Forward.
  8. Sustainability will also be a big issue for retailers across the board.
  9. E-commerce will grow in new ways, more personal, easier to access (think phone apps).
  10. Authenticity will become more important than ever. Deliver what you say you will. Watch that marketing efforts and actual experience are not out of sync. Consumers are on the lookout for something to believe in, in spite of the price sensitivity.

Retailers will have a harder time holding onto the “loyalty” message. Retail experts say new ways to promote loyalty must be created. The ubiquitous “key tag” just won’t cut it anymore. Competition will happen on the technological front. The more savvy the retailer regarding consumer buying habits, the more likely that retailer will be the winner.

And the list goes on…While I miss working as intimately as we did with customers to solve the big (and small) problems they faced as they looked for solutions to mobility and comfort challenges, I am relieved on some level to let others sort through the wiles of retailing right now. I look for more diverse ways to bring information to those who need it, and I am delighted to find some.

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