Well, to engage in a little whimsical re-work of the memorable words of Winston Churchill: Never have so many given so much adding up to so little to so few (because we retailers, as everyone knows, are an endangered species and are dropping like flies).
First they tell us we must have a dynamite website and somehow, though it may hurt, engage in e-commerce which today seems to mean people staggering around making purchases with an app on their digital devices.
Then we’ve got to go multi-channel meaning they buy online but can pick-up in the store.
Then we’ve got to offer multiple payment options including cashless, Apple Pay, PayPal, Square, etc., etc. No one even talks about will calls and layaways anymore. Everything has to be very high-tech and very cool. It’s also important to have your sales people roaming the store with smart phones and apps so they can ring-up sales almost anywhere the customer is making a purchase. This is what is known as “seamless”, whatever “seamless” is supposed to mean. Or you could go even deeper into the cyberworld by just letting people take items with them, only to be magically billed later.
Then we’ve got to be conversant with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat not to mention YouTube and Linkedin, if we expect anyone to even know that we exist. I guess if you have some sort of aversion to social media you may just as well pack it in.
Now we’re being regaled with multiple stories about Millennials who don’t want to own anything outright but prefer only to rent it or borrow it, and if it happens to be used or recyclable, well, so much the better. Presumably if one is in the business of selling products, especially new products, his days are probably numbered according to the army of consulting gurus who bombard us multiple times daily with their wisdom and sagacity.
And let’s not forget the gimmick of the week; curated subscription boxes filled with delightful products to be tried on and mostly returned. It seems like the Silicon Valley techno-wizards just can’t wait to reinvent retail, and practically on a daily basis.
So, to all of you out there who make your living by giving advice, while I respect your efforts to enlighten, and understand your need to earn money by giving your clients what you think they need by way of suggestions and solutions, I must tell you that I am up to my eyeballs with the constancy of your counsel and the fecundity of your feedback. Enough already. You folks really don’t know any more about retail than anyone else, and, conceivably, a helluva lot less.
Silly me: I’ve always believed that retail was, and still is, all about carrying wonderful products, displaying them artfully, offering them at realistic prices, and then staffing your place of business with intelligent, sensitive, knowledgeable people who take genuine pride in and are passionate about what they sell, and care mightily about the well-being of the folks who are purchasing those products. If that equation makes no sense to you, then you should get out of retailing and try your hand at computer programming or something similar, if you don’t mind my saying so.
And so, assuming I am correct in this (and I know that I am), how come all you geniuses keep blathering incessantly on about Amazon and Walmart and the retail apocalypse and the digital revolution, and no one seems to give any thought to the time-honored and fairly obvious fundamentals of properly running a retail brick-and-mortar store?
As one attorney customer said to me a number of years ago, “This place is my adult candy store and I really enjoy shopping here.” That pretty much summarizes what retailing should be all about; really pleasing people, making them feel special, and providing them with a memorable shopping experience. When it becomes essentially little more than just turning a profit, well, that’s why we have so many online sellers willing to endure 30+ percent returns of things purchased online, hoping all the while that it will all somehow work out. And if it does, maybe they can find a little venture capital, go public and then cash out, because that’s really what their business model is all about.
As for brick-and-mortar retail, suffice it to say that it’s really not rocket science, if you’ll pardon the cliché. It has a lot more to do with good judgment and common sense.
Gilbert Rose is a retailer from Chelsea Menswear, a 75-year-old business in Wyandotte MI. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)