Several independent storeowners at the recent Dallas Total Home & Gift Market reported sales were slowed by the same potent brew of political, social and economic uncertainty that has afflicted the results of leading retail chains during the first six months of the year. The consumer is one tough customer these days. That refrain is likely to be echoed at the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, the Las Vegas Market and NY NOW.
What’s encouraging is the determination among retailers shopping these mid-year shows to find solutions that can help make up some of the lost ground in the coming weeks. That pursuit, many realize, needs to take them beyond any unexpected product finds they might unearth in time for holiday selling. It’s a time for many to optimize cash flow without degrading the quality and service cultures of their stores.
Look for ways to trim costs, adjust mix, tighten inventory and extend terms (vendors willing). But at some point you’ll have to creatively and assertively merchandise yourself to renewed growth. One retailer who has survived his share of difficult business climates cautions about overplaying lower-ticket promotional items, which have their place as traffic builders but can do little to trade-up shoppers to higher-value core products that define a store’s differentiation.
Optimists will point to history that teaches us the trepidation clouding retail sales are typical of a presidential election year… and that things usually clear up a bit after the vote. Pragmatists, meanwhile, will tell you this year’s negatively charged presidential campaign, compounded by alarming domestic and global unrest, have further cemented the new norm that is consumer restraint. They will cite the closure this year of several gourmet shops as proof this is the most unforgiving marketplace for ill-equipped independent operators.
Tony Curtis-Wellings of Faraday’s Kitchen Store in Austin, TX, shared what he believed to be a must-do for every independent retailer: Invest in a responsive website. For the uninitiated, a responsive site automatically reconfigures for optimum viewing and navigating on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Aimed at satisfying the surge of mobile searching and shopping, responsive sites could be an important upgrade for an independent retail channel many feel has lagged behind the e-commerce boom that has become such a headache for many storeowners.
Faraday’s mobile bounce rate (when users enter a site and leave without viewing another page) was about 90% before it launched a responsive site recently and saw the bounce rate drop to 40% to 50%.
Imagine trying to survive if people regularly walked though the door of your store and took a quick look before walking out. That happens with outdated websites.
The mobility to deliver a distinctive, more responsive experience across all touch points is going to be essential to inviting consumers in the stores, keeping them there and convincing them to come back. Consider that as you shop the summer shows.