Sunday, 8 December 2013

Ok this time I'm serious...

So one thing we've learnt... it takes a better woman than me to post regularly on her blog whilst being a working mum. But we're going to carry on regardless. 

Coming soon- debrief on the Drapers Fashion Summit 2013, thoughts on international expansion for Uk retailers, and how to do Wholesale  in a multichannel world..

Excited ?! 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

(More) Women In Business!

So... I apologise that it's taken me much longer than I might have hoped to get back on the blog, but I couldn't let the recent International Women's Day and the publishing of the McKinsey report 'Women Matter' pass too far by without adding my observations. So this isn't directly retail related- but as our industry employs a lot of women, hopefully you'll still find it relevant.

You are probably already aware of the controversial headline statistic from that report: that whilst 55% of university graduates in Europe are female, women still only occupy 12.5% of FTSE 100 company board positions. This seems unforgiveable and such a wasted opportunity. But I don't need to preach about the benefits of having women at senior levels in industry- the results speak for themselves, as the report confirmed- company boards and management committees with more women simply have the best performance, and generate 'a richer set of ideas',

The real issue is understanding what is happening here, and crucially- what we can do about it.

I don't doubt that an element of this is due to discrimination resulting from still deeply entrenched sexism at senior levels within business; as an anecdote from Cherie Blair at a recent Google event ('Women Who Inspire') demonstrated. She regaled the audience with the story of the Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in which the overwhelming male delegates were issue with 5 plus ones, and instructed that the fifth should be a woman (obviously to improve their opportunity for the same high level access, visibility, and networking opportunities that this somewhat old boys club already enjoy), and the astonishingly high number who chose to only bring four (male) delegates with them rather than find a women to offer the fifth invitation to. But I don't think this is the whole story.
It's also well known that previously 'high flying' career women come crashing back down to earth, and out of the running for the rum jobs, after they have children. This is of course by choice for a lot of women, as this major life event forces us to re-evaluate priorities and our work-life balance, and many decide that family life is more important. But I suspect that for even more women, this slowing down (or complete standstill) of a previously fast moving and rewarding career is simply due to the lack of flexible options at senior levels, to allow women to balance a senior role with parenting responsibilities.
There are so many ways in which companies could facilitate a more flexible working week for mothers that would enable them to still perform at a high level at work whilst still being able to be as involved at home as they needed to be. Some might argue that options such as part-time work, compressed weeks, job-shares, flexible start/finish times, or working from home, mean that mothers aren't able to achieve as much in the role, are not as committed, or 'aren't working as hard', these arguments are simply a distraction from the real goal- ensuring that all the knowledge, expertise and the skills a woman has developed and honed throughout her working life, are not lost to the company as soon as she enters that delivery suite.

Finally, I wonder how much of the problem lie with ourselves as women, and the innate traits that many of us apparently share, as more and more evidence suggests that femalemisplaced modesty and self-deprecation about our achievements and abilities, and a sometimes debilitating lack of self belief, is what hinders many of us in reaching for (and getting) those senior jobs, whilst male colleagues with more confidence and less caution, aim higher and get further. We can learn something from this approach, trusting more in our own abilities, taking a few chances and lets face it, being a bit more ballsy, in order to get where we want to in our careers.

Perhaps you're wondering why I haven't mentioned the contentious quotas that are already in place in some part of Europe and may come our way if we can improve those percentages? Well, if this is the only way we can get more women on the board then I reluctantly support them, but as a last resort. Quotas are patronising, and even worse, mean that any women who does succeed in reaching a high level in their career may well always get a sideways glance from colleagues questioning whether they got there on their own merits or are simply making up the numbers- and that would be a terrible shame.

Let hope that by next year's International Women's Day, we've managed to improve the situation without having to consider this option...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Retail Resolutions for 2012

And I'm back! A very belated happy new year to you!

Something I've been thinking about for a while (in between changing nappies and cleaning up baby puke) has been the answer to the question- what should the key focus points be for retailers in 2012- a year that has not got off to a particularly good start, with bad news from Peacocks, Past Times, Best Buy.. I could go on...  And in brief I think these must be priority for retailers who recognise the need for a strategy that is proactive rather than reactive, in order to avoid a similar fate in the coming year... Let me know your thoughts as always...

1. Be 'Omni-Channel'
This term was recently introduced by the Aurora group in the form of a new role within the business- but I think this could be the new buzz word for retail (if it isn't, it should be) as I think this word encapsulates what we are now trying to do, and how we should be thinking about how and where we sell from. 'Multi-channel' no longer cuts it as a concept- for a properly joined up strategy we need to recognise that the various fulfilment channels can and should merge with each other (e-commerce/mobile commerce/tablets, or in-store/click & collect as examples).
Don't think about these as distinct channels- your customer certainly isn't. Your customer doesn't shop in 'channels'. They shop YOU, by whatever means they find most convenient at a given point in time, so stop thinking about channels and start thinking about how you provide them with a consistent, high quality, fully integrated experience, regardless of where their contact with you initiates from, with an 'Order anywhere, fulfil anywhere' mindset, with flexible options that make this a reality.
This is probably the most important thing you can start, or continue to implement, this year, and will go some way to future-proofing you for the short-medium term.

2. Store Estate
This year, retailers with a store estate- need to make their bricks and mortar sites work harder for them. Stores are a large operational cost for retailers, and there a number of things that need to be considered in order to realise their full value.
  • Rationalisation. Times are tough, costs are as high as they've ever been, and as non-store based sales make up ever greater proportions of total turnover- retailers accordingly need to analyse their store estate and strip out their unprofitable stores, re-diverting spend accordingly to make their remaining stores...
  • Destination Points. It's so easy for us to shop with you online, or on our phone, or with pure play e-tailers who are potentially cheaper or offer more... The high street continues to struggle, and our trips to shopping centres are more considered and cautious than in the past. So your branch needs to be a real destination point. I need a reason to go there, to stay in there, and most importantly to shop there. It needs WOW Factor- location, looks, product offering, services- ideally all of these. Additional services such as Click n Collect are a no brainer that delight the customer by providing them with the flexbility to shop how they want.
  • Etail Showroom. Last year we saw a number of E-Tailers dip their toes into a high street presence- such as N Brown with Simply Be, and EBay at Christmas, and I think we need to see more of this in the coming year. As we've already pointed out, your offering to the customer needs to be channel agnostic, and focussed simply on providing a consistent, integrated service- pure play e-tailers risk being left behind in this brave new world without offering the added value that a store can provide.
3. Be The Best
I won't dwell on this point too much as its obvious and I won't teach my grandmother to suck eggs- but no list of retail reccomendations would be complete without pointing out that in today's challenging market, those retailers that are and will continue to suceed, are those which offer something over and above their competitors- something that compels us to shop with them, whether or not we had already decided to dust off our wallets. There are of course a number of points that you can compete on- Product Offering, Price, Customer Service, Innovation. The Goliaths of retail are excellent at a number of these- I'm thinking John Lewis of course, but also someone like Primark- they aren't just cheap, their product offering is also excellent and probably the best within the value sector.
It is worth noting that implementation of a sucessful social media strategy, being based on carefully defined objectives that are relevant to your business and your customer, can be a key way of forging ahead of the competition, in terms of both customer service and innovation. Customers want and increasingly expect responsiveness from the businesses they are dealing with (or considering dealing with)- a two way dialogue, where you engage with them on the platforms they most commonly use. It's a business area that is still being overlooked to a degree, but as social media use continues to grow, it will become increasingly significant so don't get left behind.

And there we have it. These are I think the 'Killer Apps' for retailers who want to make 2012 a year to remember, not one to forget.

And what do you think?

Monday, 21 November 2011

John Lewis has Christmas Wrapped Up....

So by now everyone has not only read about, but seen and formed an opinion on, the John Lewis 2011 Christmas Advert.

So I won't bore you with the details of it, suffice to say that unlike their last effort (that dodgy advert with the different music and technology through the ages- that was awful) 'Please Let me Get What I Want' has been almost universally applauded for the heart-string pulling ultimate message of Christmas at its core- that it is better to give than to receive. Only John Lewis would spend £6m on an Xmas ad campaign that doesn't actually appear to advertise anything- apart from the JLP lifestyle and ethos itself- bold move, but judging by the collosal amount of goodwill (and lets face it publicity) it has generated, it has paid off. In common with their phenomenally successful 'Always a Woman' campaign, the ad below, has brought a tear to the eye, and given us pause for thought...

I don't think there has been much competition for John Lewis this year, as the other 'big' Christmas campaigns seem mostly some rather more cynical and downright annoying this year..
a D minus and 'Must Try Harder' for Marks and Spencers for their lazy and uninspiring X Factor tie-in- as if those wannabees aren't all over our screens enough as it is, isn't this collaboration completely at odds with the target demographic they are meant to be trying harder to woo?

And as for Littlewoods? Bah Humbug!!! In a real low for the retailer, the premise is a nativity show is which the children sing about all the great presents Mum has bought for them and their relatives. Yes thats right- Mum. In an advert that is sufficiently irritating that it is bound to appeal to kids, Littlewoods has clearly decided to blow the whole 'Santa bringing the Christmas presents' idea, who needs magic in today's consumerist society eh?

I'm not even going to add links to these two adverts, I don't want to give them the satisfaction of the extra publicity. So instead, back to John Lewis for a moment, and a couple of the more amusing spoofs that have sprung up in homage to that impatient little boy.... ho ho ho...

Internet Retailing 2011

So a few weeks ago I had an interesting day attending the Internet Retailing conference 2011 (#IR11 for twitter fiends) with a fellow TCS colleague.

The day consisted of three separate 'tracks' or themes of discussions- rather vaguely entitled the Customer, the Team, and the Industry. But madly seat-hopping between the most interesting presentations in each track, it seemed clear to me that the real three themes that everyone is (and if they're not, should be) talking about are more specifically:
  • The Empowered Customer
  • Embracing True Multi-Channel, and
  • M-Commerce: You Can't Escape It
Some of the key take aways from the day:

Mark Hodgkinson (Marketing & E-Comm Director HMV Group) kicked things off by reminding us that consumers expect more from their shopping experience than ever before, and are now in the driving seat, empowered by technology. Tech is changing shopping habits as shopping becomes a more participatory experience, with consumers engaging with each other, and with brands, regarding their purchase decisions, an increasing amount.

Mark advised us that the way we shop now is becoming more 'channel agnostic' as we expect to be able to shop Whenever, Whereever and However is most convenient for us- which is increasingly using our Mobiles, with which research shows we are shopping for longer and spending more, than other means, in addition to the 10% of UK adults who use their mobile to compare prices and learn more about products. Mobiles are always with us becoming like our wallets as we become more confident in using them for financial transactions, offering a continuous opportunity to engage with and inspire our customers to buy, wherever they are.
Social Media is the other big change to the way shop now enabling engagement and commerce (with 1 in 4 inspired to buy after social media interaction), and is only set to increase in influence with a reach of 1bn users and counting.
Mark concluded by advising that in order to succeed today, retailers need to embrace: multiple channels, partnerships & collaboration (e.g. dumping the outlet stores and selling excess stock through EBay as some retailers have started doing), and technology as a core competency.

Interesting thoughts from Jo Causon of the Institute of Customer Service on that recurring theme- the evolving customer. She reminded us that customer service is seeing a renaissance, as businesses realise that in a climate where customers are more demanding- and crucially more likely to complain, more likely to talk about their negative experiences, especially with the growth of social media meaning feedback is more accessible and more immediate; building successful relationships has a direct positive impact on business performance and bottom line profit. There is even some demonstrable correlation between share price and customer service index.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, as Jo advised us that £15.3bn is lost to the UK economy annually due to poor customer service. Some of Jo's final thoughts included reminding retailers that customer service needs to be a strategic boardroom issue, that it can be a source of sustainable competitive advantage, that in an age where feedback is immediate and highly visible, customers have real power!!!

And from Aurora, innovators of the moment, Ish Patel (Group Strategic Development Director) and Hash Ladha (Group Multi-channel Director) and some timely words on Mobile Commerce and multi-channel, re-iterating the growth of smart phones, their place as the first personal mass media device and the 'glue' for true multi-channel retailing... And talking of multi-channel, both guys made the point that customers do not shop 'channels' so successful retailers needs to be brilliant at all channels... customers shop brands but the key things they are really looking for from their purchase are the right price, reputation, service, choice, and delivery options!

Ish and Hash reminded us that customers are less patient these days, they are doing more at once (tweeting, shopping etc) and our requirements for online shopping are evolving- we want convenience, speed in addition to a better selection, lower price, and the ability to compare myriad products.

Finally, Ish and Hash also advised us of Aurora's recent and imminent developments (which are many!), including the Shutl 90 mins delivery service (which will be rolled out nationwide  & to all stores next year), Facebook shops for their threee brands (go where your customers are!), Mobile Optimisation of Aurora websites, and In-Store Mobile, with Tablets in use for Stock Management, Q-Busting, and Handhelds for PoS, and Smartphones for self-held, selfcheckout; with Locality, and additional Payment options (contactless, e receipts etc) offering further potential in the future..

Richard Weaver, Majestic Wine's E-Comm Director used his business as a case study to talk about their success in offering local content in social media. Following internal demand from store staff, Majestic determined that local marketing online had real value as key point of difference between themselves and pure play competitors, providing real engagement and a memorable experience for their shoppers. Majestic have seen time on pages doubled, page views increase, and those stores that are most active seeing the biggest impact.
Store staff were involved in the initiative from the start, ensuring on-going buy-in, and of course Change Management was key to its success- with key strategies including: internal heroes and influences to inspire, best practise highlighted, involvement of the whole team, non-negotiables to ensure consistency, incentives tro encourage activity, and formal training to maximise effectiveness.

And finally, David Hogg of IBM reiterated the key concepts of the day, driving home the message that customers are: 
- Instrumented  with typically 2+ technologys in use when shopping these days
- Interconnected & Engaged with the huge number of mobile phone users and social network users (nevermind the amount of time we have our mobiles with us)
Intelligent,  Informed & Empowered with the increase in smartphone use, in user generated content, and the impact of user ratings on click thru and sales. David reminded us about the impact of social networking on buying decisions and the fact that customers trust friends, family and unknown fellow online users a lot more than retailers in informing their purchase decisions!
- Demanding ok not a shock here, David repeated the consensus that the majority of customers expect a seamless experience across all channels, and are increasingly channel agnostic
And how David and IBM think retailers capitalise on this insight?
  • A mature website, that is mobile optimised
  • Cross-channel integration, and marketing
  • Single view of stock
  • Tailored social media strategy
  • Mobile to assist shopping experience (not just order capture)
And there you have it, a not-very condensed synopsis of key messages from Internet Retailing 2011. Following on from this I'd like to develop my own summary for you of what the key focus points for retailers need to be as we gallop towards 2012, so look out for that soon.