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Published 07 June 2012 04:05, Updated 13 June 2012 06:53
Retailers are doing it tough. Retail sales fell 0.2 per cent in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports. The uncertain economy and crashing consumer sentiment are hurting sales but that’s only part of the problem. Traditional “bricks and mortar” retailers have been caught flat-footed by the impact of online shopping and they’re not coping well.
Online shoppers spend $11.1 billion a year, National Australia Bank says. Even as retailers grudgingly acknowledge online competition, they remain convinced that what consumers really want is the full retail experience. Unfortunately that experience is pretty ordinary.
The big-name retailers that dominate retailing – department stores, category-killers, the supermarket duopoly and franchise chains – have made shopping tedious and unsatisfying. Visit any soul-sapping shopping centre and it’s the same retailers selling the same goods in the same store layouts. If boredom doesn’t get you, the stress will. The traffic, the crowds, shopping centres so enormous they are unnavigable, the noise: no wonder online shopping is so appealing.
Recently I visited my local Westfield shopping centre. As always, on entering I was assailed by the ear-splitting piped music that infests the centre. Each shop in turn has its own music, creating an audio hell on earth. Combined with the aimless, shuffling throng, the noise was too much to bear. After a few minutes I turned on my heel and walked straight out again.
What retail genius has determined that this wall of sound is conducive to a pleasant shopping experience?
When time and mood permit, it is always more satisfying to visit a strip shopping centre. They are equally prone to the sameness of ubiquitous franchises but at least the strips, probably because of more reasonable rents than the rapacious shopping centres, generally attract more independent retailers and thus greater diversity.
Traditional retailers fending off the growing popularity of online retailers are right when they argue that consumer behaviour will be guided by the quality of the customer experience but they are so far proving unequal to the challenge. Retailers must adopt business models that reflect why and how people want to shop. They must fulfil customers’ needs and expectations in a way that makes shopping an occasion rather than a chore. Above all, retailers must rediscover the importance of variety, innovation and customer service.