Did you know there are two rabbits in UK retail?

Today the team at Squire Sanders, an international law firm, asked me along as one of a number of guest speakers to discuss issues in retail. The 40+ strong audience (speakers and guests) were an mix of retailers (more of this later), landlords, lawyers, consultants, and trainers. Before reporting on the aspects I found interesting, I have to say that a very amusing relationship between two of the retailers present came to light. Pets At Home discussed their multi-channel strategy but stressed the significance of the ‘bunny village’ they have in each store – at great expense!

I haven’t seen one but essentially it is a rabbit playground in the middle of the store. As it happens, many people go to Pets At Home to just play with the rabbits. The average dwell time created by this is 13 mins 6 secs, and 42% of these people leave the store having spent nothing but having petted a rabbit. A great way of customer engagement – short and long term – subtle but very powerful! Following this experiential case study, another retailer in the room told us that there was a synergy between Pets At Home and his shops. Now, I sat there thinking is there more than one shop that has a ‘pets corner’, until he announced that he was from Ann Summers and their ‘rabbit’ sells very well! Suffice to say it caused great laughter and sideways/out of the window looks from some of those present!

So for me there were a number of interesting points made by everyone present, be it about multi-channel, property, brands or incentivising staff. Here they are in no particular order:

  • People shop brands and shop retailers.
  • Move your management focus away from transactions to traffic. In the case of Pets At Home, for every 16 online visits it results in 1 visit to store.
  • It is wrong to talk of a multi-channel strategy. Multi-channel does not change strategy, it is the customer who should dictate the strategy.
  • On or off-line ‘every touch counts’ – whatever the rabbit!! 🙂
  • Everyone identified biz rates as a big issue that needs addressing (sign the e-petition), but at the same, time many retailers are also happy to vote for a BID that adds another 1% of their biz rate levy. This reinforces the need for professional management of towns as proposed by the Grimsey Town Commissions – what gets measured gets done!
  • Brands offer insulation to retailers facing challenges. This is dangerous as the retailer becomes dependent on something it cannot control or can indeed be taken away from them.
  • Ownership of a product is the key consumer focus not the point of sale. If you get this right then Amazon pricing is an irrelevance!
  • Social media has brought customer service and corporate comms into the same place. It always should have been – as often the message is to the same person – and those that fail to respond to physical or virtual issues do so at their peril as this article shows.
  • Best way to expand as a retailer or brand is through advocates, but you need to look after them. Having said that, if it is always about ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIFM), can you trust these advocates?
  • Do the right things not do the things right. A great HR mantra if the person knows the context.
  • Retail employs 2.8m people of which 1.6m earn less than £8 per hour! The industry average for staff turnover is 35% and in some fashion retailers as high as 50-60%. Imagine the recruitment and training costs associated with this, let alone the impact on the customer. Retail is not a career of choice which it should be. On this I know that Philip Green and others have done great work to try and change it, but everyone from schools onward must preach a positive message about a career in retail. In my view, working in retail requires more skills than ever before as often the customer knows more than you, but if they don’t and you do not look down on your potential customer’s lack of knowledge, then you may win them for life. See, for instance, Dixons big focus on Know How not price – a shrewd move in such a price mad sector!
  • There are now more products and innovation than ever before so speed, sincerity, and trust are key to any consumer relationship.
  • Shops have in many ways, but not in all places, become a key part of this new world of experiential retail but with anything in life we have two ears and one mouth, and our maker designed us in this way for a reason!

So in summary it was a good morning, and I always enjoy learning from clients or people I hope will be clients one day. The good news is that I get to do it all again next week in Leeds.

Thank you Squire Sanders and Bry Roberts of Kantar for asking me to come along.

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