The recent announcement by Toys “R” Us that they are filing bankruptcy marks the end of an era.
When my kids were little (they are now 31 & 34), trips to Toys “R” Us were part of our weekly routine. They had the best price on diapers and baby food, inexpensive children’s clothes and of course, toys! Wandering the aisles would keep my kids occupied for an hour or more. But if you walked into a store in the last few years, the aisles were mostly empty.
So what caused this retail failure?
The easy answer is to blame Amazon, which transformed the shopping experience, delivering whatever customers desired right to their front door. While that was certainly a contributing factor, I am going to lay much of the blame at the feet of Toys “R” Us because they were unwilling to change and adapt to a changing market.
Even without Amazon, the lifestyle of families in America has changed. Kids have longer school days, after-school and weekend programs leave little time for leisurely walks through retail stores. Like many other retail stores, they cut back on in-store staff. So if a customer did wander in they found a cluttered, messy store. They had to search for a salesperson if they needed help and wait on a long line to check out. What part of this feels like an experience a busy mom with three kids in tow is going to sign up for?
While Toys “R” Us is the most recent failure, they are not alone, Many large retail chains scaled back closing hundreds of store locations since the beginning of the year. JC Penny, Sears/Kmart, Macy’s, and Best Buy have all announced multiple store closings.
But it isn’t all doom in gloom in retail. Some chains are actually making more money than ever. How do they do it? The short answer is each of the most profitable stores give consumers a reason to come to the store. Sure the top stores: Apple, Michael Kors, Lululemon, Athletica, and Coach all sell high-end products, but they also create a high-end shopping experience in a relatively, visually exciting space.
Other stores like Home Depot and Kroger are finding success by blending the on and offline experiences. Modern, interactive websites allow consumers to place orders, prepay, and select the pickup time and location.
Lessons for Small Retail Shops
So if you are in the retail business, what can you learn from these examples of retail failure and success? The stores that are willing to go the extra mile will be the destination of choice for consumers.
Give customers a reason to come in. This isn’t really a new strategy. Thirty years ago, I would drive to the far east side of the city to shop at a little boutique because the owner took the time to learn what I liked. Every month or so, she would pull aside a few new things and call me. If I needed a new suit or dress for work, I would make the trip. Barbara, the owner, kept files on all her clients, knew their size, style, and important dates. My husband would get a call right before my birthday with a suggestion and an offer to have the perfect gift wrapped before he came in.
Barbara was doing all of this with handwritten notes on index cards. Today, with a solid customer database and a personalized email program, you can make every customer feel special.
Have enough staff. I get it, seeing people stand around when no one is in the store is depressing. You can feel the money slipping out the door But cutting back on staff means you don’t have enough people when customers come in, so then fewer customers come in. Hire part-time people, and give them other assignments in the slow times. Let one of your staff take pictures of new merchandise for your social media pages, update your database, and design email newsletters. Work ahead in the slow time so your marketing can work automatically when you are busy.
Shop your competition. Look at their online marketing and retail locations. Figure out what they are doing right. And they must be doing something right if they are still in business.
Try new things, retail is changing and you need to change too. Unless you want to be the next “Not US” location.
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