Ken McMeikan, the chief executive of Greggs, says in this week’s cover story that one way to save the high street is for shops to be so exciting and have such brilliant service, that people buy from them there and then, rather than online or with a competitor.
He says: “If people can buy goods as easily online [as they could in-store], retailers will have to think about why customers would come to their shops.
The service in shops has to be so good that it will encourage people to browse and buy in-store.”
As his chain, along with Costa and Subway, expands, he envisions a time when the high street might become more of a social hub than it is at the moment. But he points out that retailers and local councils must work together to try to make parking cheaper and shops easier to get to.
Meanwhile, I’ve been speaking to other retailers who have gone undercover in their own bricks and mortar shops, for a feature on mystery shopping out next week. All of them discovered new things about their brands and have made changes to how their businesses run, for the benefit of customers and staff.
For example, Ann Summers realised it wasn’t sexy enough, so revamped its marketing, after its deputy managing director disguised herself to work as a sales assistant.
The chief executive of Canadian waste disposal firm 1-800-Got-Junk found new business in rural areas and will expand into them, after he shaved his head, grew a goatee and spent time ‘slinging junk’ into its trucks. And a director at travel firm TUI saw that shop staff should be sent on more trips abroad to get to know its hotels and resorts - so they can sell more holidays.
The director, Nick Longman, worked at one of TUI’s high street travel shops on one of the busiest Saturday of the year. He went as himself, rather than undercover and says the experience helped him identify things that could be improved.
While many retailers practise management by walking around, it seems that even just spending one day working on the shop floor means learning fundamental things about their businesses.
How on earth can a retailer run well without doing so? The ‘frontline’ really is the ‘sharp end’ because it deals directly with one of the only things that makes money for a company: customers.
Recent research by agency Iris puts forward the idea of the ‘outsellers’, those retailers which consider the fifth ‘P’ of marketing: premium shopper experience. It cites an Accenture study showing that a quarter of shoppers have gone to another retailer because of a bad experience and just 8% would accept poorer customer service if it means they get a lower price.
With M&S launching an online outlet shop and Tesco trialling virtual fitting rooms via Facebook, it will be interesting to see how retailers also focus on making shopping in-store a brilliant experience.