The retail selling options
There are many ways to expose your product to the customer in the hope that they will make a favourable decision and purchase your wares. More often than not the nature of the product will influence the type of channel that is selected but whatever format that the retail store takes it still is very simply a part of the integrated supply chain whereby goods are purchased in large quantities directly from a manufacturer or maybe from a wholesaler, trading house or agent and then sell on in smaller quantities to the end user. Retailing can be done in the more traditional fixed locations like stores or markets but in recent years there have been more innovative ways of selling the product such as “pop up” shops whereby a temporary location is used in a busy environment which is possibly a sports event, trade show or similar location where large volumes of potential customers are present. It is also an easy way of promoting goods or the carrying out of special launches.
In the modern era of technology the internet is probably the fastest growing medium to sell product. Online websites now exist for all types of goods and all the major retailers as well as dedicated online retailers are spending large amounts of money to set up their sites in such a way that they are the most user friendly, faster and the most attractive with secure, easy payment methods. Door to door deliveries are carried out by a sophisticated courier services from some highly efficient distribution centres or withdrawals of stock from brick and mortar stores that are in close proximity to the online customer. The challenge that customers do have is that they do not have the facility to try on the garments so retailers devise some convenient options for the provision of special services. International purchases in foreign currencies is also relatively easy to do and receive the parcels in a reasonable period of time.
Closely linked to shopping on line is the digital download of product from the retailer website to the customer computer such as music, films, books and subscriptions to magazines.
Marketing teams utilise various types of techniques to effectively expose the product in the most attractive way to the market. Traditional channels in the form of print, radio, television, in house magazines, flyers, and point of sale material, even the use of innovative medium such as the use of permeating fragrances which assist in order to enhance the shopping experience. The well-used posters and bill boards, scratch cards and the like are still very prominent in varying formats. However in increasing proportions is the creative use of the electronic channels in the form of websites, SMS, E-Mail and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The scientific collection of customer data through the electronic media allows the customer profiles to be analysed and targeted in a more scientific way. Loyalty programmes are very popular through the rewarding the customer either in the form of points for reward and be used as a means of transaction or immediate discount at till point. Such programmes are not only extremely effective in significantly improving sales and profits but they also allow the retailer to interpret in detail the buying habits of the customer and consequently thereby are able to better service the consumer needs.
While shopping generally refers to the activity of simply buying product it has become very much a recreational activity whereby a visit to the shopping mall becomes a wonderful experience which may or may not result in any purchase being made. Some malls may have added attractions such as theatres, ice skating rinks, stages for entertainment and even larger magnetisms such as aquariums and fun parks while facilities such as gyms are not an uncommon appendage. Restaurant and fast food eateries are an integral part and are often included in centrally located food halls and are always represented by the major brands as well specialised restaurants.
The anchor tenants are the major retailers who are seen as the crowd pullers. Large food chains together with typical mass clothing retailers while other chain stores such as general chains provide the bulk of hard and specialist goods such as electronics and appliances, stationery, furnishings, jewelry and sports shops. A complex combination of line shops who derive their name due to the fact that they line the interlinking walkways between the major tenants are like the fish feeding off the major chains and tend to be more exclusive in their offerings. The rentals are usually at a much higher rate and the closest adjacency to a major tenant comes at a premium. Line shops will include service shops such as hairdressers, opticians, beauticians and even tattoo parlours. Specialized stores such as the traditional chemist are finding it more and more challenging as the emerging trend amongst some major chains to include a dispensary counter in their store and malls includes a supermarket format of a chemist. Apart from eateries the typical line shop will offer exclusive product and offer specialised service. Some of commonly seen stores are boutiques, dedicated outdoor gear retailers, accessory specialists, luggage shops, photographic outlets and religious retailers selling inspirational product making up more or less the balance. What is also evolving to a greater degree is the presence of international chains and brands from all over the world which has become increasingly easy for stores to open due to greater technologies and exposure both from an IT perspective as well as efficient transport methodologies.
Other options in the malls include the barrow type stores such as ties and accessories and specialized delicacy outlets. Vending machines which are an automated piece of equipment wherein customers can drop the money in the machine and acquire the products are also popular.
Malls are strategically positioned close to residential dense areas and the science of the mix of line shops supported by the major tenants will be largely influenced by the demographics of the area that it serves. Such malls may be supported by adjacent discount shopping centres which mostly include many clothing, shoes and factory outlet stores. Factory outlets enable manufacturers or traders to market over runs, rejects, problem lines at reduced prices in locations that enjoy lower rentals. Liquor outlets, hardware stores and nurseries are also frequently seen adjacent to the main shopping complex.
While the mall has largely been the cause of the demise of the “high street” store as many major chain store have succumbed to and their operations have consequently closed or relocated to the shopping centres. However, there is still a place for these stores predominantly in the city centres and in certain cities there is a reverse trend where there is a density of office workers and the growing inclination to live within the city centre as can be seen by the fact that many office blocks have been transformed into apartment blocks.
Traditional general stores and co-operatives serving everything for the community and mom and pop family run shops who purchased from the travelling salesman most commonly found in the rural areas are now very far and few between. Centralized shopping locations with all the relevant chains being represented and the influx of the discount shops specialising in goods from the East some of which have originated from dubious sources in almost every town has sadly relegated these stores to being romantic memories of the past. There is however an emergence of independent stores who serve niche markets with specialised product such as outsizes, maternity wear, high end knitwear and excusive footwear.
Franchise stores offer the opportunity for individual traders to invest in a mass retail group and enjoy the benefit of the support from the chain’s branding, quality products and marketing strategies. The advantage for the franchisee is that the expansion and market penetration can be accelerated with external investment and they enjoy a commission for goods sold without the risk of stock holding costs, overheads and staffing expenses.
Traditional stores where historically the goods were kept in walk-in counters with goods often being displayed behind glass and in drawers with sales assistants serving the customer from within the unit and manned the till stationed at each counter. While this way of serving customers was very effective from the customer interaction point of view it soon became unsustainable due to the demands of mass retailing and convenience for the customer.
Courtesy of Woolworths South Africa archives – first store opened in 1931 in Plein Street, Cape Town
The newer formats of stores are well lit, uncluttered and appealing to the customer. They house easy to access product which is in sufficient quantities with well demarcated information through attractive signage. Displays whether on shelves, tables or garment rails are well thought out and coordinated in cameo presentations which suggest to the customer how the product pieces can be worn together in terms of lifestyle and colouration. Displays are adjacent to similar customer needs, for example women’s skirts will be located close to the blouse displays which will be adjacent to the ladies trousers. The ladies outerwear will most likely next to the lingerie department and ladies shoes leading into ladies sleepwear. There will also be a thread of the chosen similar colour themes throughout which is being promoted at that point in time. The personal interaction with the customer by any staff member whether they are the sales assistants or management can never be substituted. Service remains of paramount importance in ensuring that they can illustrate to the customer the ways in which styles and colours of the different components can tastefully be worn. There are focus displays which may be located in highly visible areas such as aisles, window displays or walls which are regularly changed as new product is received. Seasonal changes, special events, promotional activity and colour themes are typically introduced in this way sustaining the impact of newness, freshness and excitement. The customer not only has a pleasant experience considering the suggestion but the opportunity of a sale is maximised.
Various principles are also supported by visual merchandisers who create coordinated cameo displays, whether they are window or within the store, including video screens as well as static mannequins.
Pay points and change rooms are conveniently placed and the design of these units are such that they lessen the frustration that comes with the inevitable waiting periods.
The need for refurbishment and revitalisation of stores and displays is an ongoing process, which although being costly, regularly presents the customer a fresh and exciting environment to enjoy the shopping experience and avoid being faced with stale, run down and drab looking stores that undermine even the most attractive merchandise.
As with the buying teams, the selling teams also consist of a mix of skills that are coordinated in such a way that the customer has the most satisfying shopping experience.
The team is spearheaded by the head of the store known usually as the store general manager. This position maybe supported by an assistant position and they will ensure that the overall co-ordination of all the roles will ensure the most effective running of the operation. A classic structure that they will support will consist of commercial or departmental managers who will each be responsible for a segment of the store. The role will focus on ensuring that the displays are continually fully stocked and that they are optimally positioned and displayed proportionately appropriate to the customer demand. By way of illustration the most popular product will normally be in the front of the racks and displayed at eye level of the customer. The size of the display will be proportionate to the relative demand, in other words in the ideal world a product that represents twenty percent of the sales will enjoy twenty percent of the space of the relevant display area. Exceptions to this principle may occur where the product may be bulky and may require to be pallet stacked on the floor. An example of this would possibly be nappies, duvets and cushions.
The challenge is to ensure that there is the optimum number of well trained, knowledgeable and positive staff that can best serve the customers without the overhead costs being put under pressure. The best service disposition should apply right through the experience from the time that the customer is greeted at the front door until the transaction is finalised at the till point and the customer leaves the store. The objective should always be that the customer will always look forward to returning to the store. Even where a sale may not materialize the offering of advice or helping with choosing alternatives is part and parcel of the creation and reinforcement of the loyalty to the brand is consequently embedded in the customer’s mind.
Selling teams are supported by other staff functions such as the human resource officer who will be responsible for the personnel functions as well as the shift scheduling of staff. This function is imperative to ensure optimum staffing appropriate to the variable number of customers over the various times during the day, week month and year of trade. A flexible, part time work force is required which can be above two thirds of the total store staff and because some of the hours of work are unsocial such as weekend or after normal hours variable rates of remuneration or extra time off will apply.