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September 24, 2009

Holiday ’09… Will You Just Survive or Thrive?

by Marge Laney

by Marge Laney 

As a news junkie, blogger, tweeter, and purveyor of retail customer service technology I view the retail industry from several vantage points.  Usually, there is a common thread that runs through all news and commentary about our industry with a twist here or an opinion there but most are supported by cold hard facts.  This latest period of time, however, which seems like the past year or so, there is a different vibe running through the media and commentary which appears to depend on what agenda is being promoted, and the facts massaged to prove points. This agenda driven dialogue has been harmful and weighs on the consumer making them feel confused, nervous, and as a by-product unwilling to spend their money freely.

On one side of the commentary the news is very bad and our lot is not likely to improve much in the foreseeable future and will, in fact, probably get worse.  On the other side is the argument that things are getting better and the economy is going to take off like a rocket at any moment.  Mixed into all of this are pretty anemic economic data and high unemployment, but on the flip side a stock market that appears to be trying to gin up a bull run. All of this turmoil has conspired to put the consumer on edge and paralyze retailers.

And that brings us to Holiday ’09.  It has been opined that the consumer has had it and is ready to splurge.  To throw caution to the wind and spend, spend, spend. Others wave statistics that point to the exact opposite scenario.  But some say, no matter what the consumer appetite is for spending, don’t expect them to want anything but essentials and basics and they will only buy if the discounts are deep.  Others think that the consumer has all the basics and is looking for trendy, exciting product and will pay the price if they perceive the value.  Luxury is out in some camps, but it’s in, in others.  Discounters will save the day some say, while others see the mid-tier and upscale retailers being the winners if they can entice the customer with a convincing value proposition and a great customer experience.  Online is the only way, some say, to save gas and sales tax, while the in-store experience is what will make the difference between winning and losing for others.

How will the retailer react to all of this confusion? For the most part it seems like they are going to just play it safe, and can we really blame them?  Inventories are being cut and payroll slashed.  I did hear today that the profit end of things will probably be the bright spot as with so little on the shelves markdowns will be very limited.  Selections will be limited, color pallets safe, and self service will truly be the only customer service.  Blah Humbug!

In the final analysis, however, there will be a few retailers who will have tuned out the conflicting news and opinions and looked instead to their customers for direction. They will have set aside the analyst’s estimates and the pundit’s predictions.  They will have dusted off and pored over their customer comment cards, secret shops, and customer experience surveys.  They will have analyzed, talked, and most important listened to their customers that frequent their stores on a daily basis, and from this they will base their holiday plan on what their customers are telling them they really want.  If their customers tell them to stack it deep and sell it cheap, they will.  If their customers tell them they want trendy fashion forward styles served up with great customer service, they will chose the right product and staff their stores to service their customers well.  It will take a strong will and a lot of Pepto to run against the tide, but in the end those that listened to their customers will win and win big and not just survive, but thrive.

© Alert Technologies, Inc. 2009

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