"And Many Happy Returns"

We just learned of a study that quantified the effects of “free and easy” return policies.

  • But first, some (reassuring) background: Apparently 48% of shoppers say that their top reason for choosing a retailer is a flexible returns policy. But, as is true in many instances, perception is everything! That is, according to a 2016 Holiday Shopping Trends survey from the National Retail Federation, “On average, two-thirds of consumers say that they didn’t return any of their gifts.”

So, how important is it to have - and brag about - a “free and easy” return policy? 

  • A Washington & Lee University study compared two similar online retailers; one offered free shipping on returns, and the other required the customer to pay shipping costs to return items. 
  • What happened? Over a two-year period, average spending per customer was four times greater ($2,500 versus $620) for the retailer offering “free and easy” returns!

Wow! That's impressive, isn't it?

Lessons for ALL Retailers

The lessons from this apply to brick-and-mortar retailers as well. What about your store's return policy? Does it seem “free and easy”, or is it restrictive? 

  • If you require that items must be returned within a very short window of time, or can only be returned for “store credit”, you may be protecting yourself from being “ripped off”.
  • But you also may be assuring yourself of missing out on future sales.
  • Bigger yet, customers that trust you as a retailer are very likely to shop with you more frequently, and tell others.

Are there costs? Of course. Some customers will abuse it. Some merchandise will not be able to be returned to your shelves. For that, consider Ebay or Amazon for liquidating it yourself, or use some of the so-called “return services” to recoup costs. 

But consider the cost/benefit comparisonWhat does a “free and easy” return policy really do? 

It builds confidence and trust with your customer. It keeps them coming back, and spending more! ($2,500 vs $620, remember?) 

Hmm. Maybe it’s time to quit focusing on returned merchandise. Concentrate instead on those “returning customers”! 

And do whatever it takes to have many happy customer returns!

"Food for Thought" from McDonald's and 7-Eleven

Recent strategic changes by two global firms – McDonald's and 7-Eleven – provide good reminders for us all. Each business is making news by its focus on what they are known for. 

For 7-Eleven, that would be convenience and low prices. Granted, it is still a habit for many to stop at the corner store on the way to and from work, school and play. But for 7-Eleven to remain relevant, it needed an updated definition of “convenience” for its best customers: Millennials. 

Their research revealed that today, people are eating five and six times a day; over 40% of adults are eating alone and on-the-go. So 7-Eleven expanded its private label brands into portable, snack-sized “healthy and fresh foods”, geared especially to their Millennial shoppers.

  • Their Go!Smart brand offers an array of fresh foods especially appealing to women shoppers (small portions of turkey chili and cornbread, kale and quinoa salads, hummus, all labeled with nutritional info).
  • Their branded items also include gourmet nut and fruit snacks.

So far, it has been a winner! Sales of their private brands have grown smartly (30% in both 2015 and 2016). Since over 50% of their customers are Millennials – who now are old enough to buy beer and wine – the future looks bright as well. 

7-Eleven: Updated, but back to its basic convenience premise.

Similarly, McDonald's is returning its focus to delivering what it’s known for. In their case, of course, it is burgers and fries.  At low prices, from clean stores, and fast. (Oh yes, Egg McMuffins - how about all day long?)

Through their research, they discovered that fewer people were coming into their stores each year. Definitely not a recipe for success! 

Their new goal: “A better McDonald’s, not a different McDonald’s.” 

  • They are simplifying the menu, to reduce the complexity of ordering and preparing (saving costs and time.) 
  • They still offer choices to the customer. But not of different items (wraps? salads?), but more choices about the burgers. 
  • Their focus is on what customers expect and want when they go to McDonald's. “You want fries with that?” 

Ahh yes. Back to your roots. The value of going back to the basics of what you are primarily known for. 

So, once upon a time...What were your stores known for?

  • What about your stores do customers really know and love? 
  • Does that still matter to today’s customers? 
  • If yes, how do you make it even better for that customer?
  • And then, Get cracking!

Ready for this? Most shoppers prefer to buy from stores, not online

But – gulp! – there's a catch!

Despite the ease and convenience of online shopping, “the majority of American consumers still choose brick-and-mortar stores over e-commerce.”

Why? According to Retail Dive’s Consumer Survey* of 1,425 U.S. consumers, there are three main reasons:
  1. “To see, touch, feel and try out items” is the top reason 
  2. Shoppers also want it now and want it fast; they want “to take items home immediately.” 
  3. One in five consumers cites easy returns  
Refreshing, isn't it? Shoppers want a shopping experience, in a real store. And it confirms that Amazon is nowhere close to being the only game in retailing. (If only everyone would quit hyperventilating.)

But, there is a far more sobering message here about today's very demanding shoppers. Retailers are expected to deliver on ALL fundamentals of retailing (the "right product", "right price", etc), ALL the time!

Assuring customers that "we can get that for you in just a couple days" won't satisfy. (After all, they have the web for that!) You must be in stock, with exactly what the customer is  looking for, whenever she comes into your store. 

And oh yes, be sure it is offered in a compelling shopping experience!

Yikes! Some may call these expectations crazy. Or call the shoppers entitled. 

We call it the New Normal. And like it or not, relish the challenge – or close the doors.
  • Time to be nimble and quick.
  • Have much better inventory control.
  • Raise turns.
  • Be smart about markdowns.
  • Make all your stores compelling places to be.
  • And above all else, keep having fun!
However, who better to meet that challenge than independent retailers? 

Retail Dive's Consumer Survey, sponsored by iQmetrix

Noticed Sales Ticking Upwards?

Why it matters to know "Why?"

How to pick up the pace even more

Many retailers now are being buoyed by gradual upticks in sales. 

If you are one of those, we encourage you to give some thought to "Why?" your business is experiencing sales increases.

You will find that it will be for one of these three fundamental reasons.

  • More customers, or  
  • Higher prices, or
  • More items-per-transaction 

But, The ROI suggests that, when you analyze your results, you will quickly eliminate reasons 1 and 2.

"More customers"? That's a stretch.

Few places are experiencing growth in population. Plus, with the proliferation of online shopping, while your customers don't need to be geographically close, they also have many more choices when they are ready to buy. Your competition may be growing faster than the market of customers.  

Higher prices? Just not in the cards these days.

This is not an environment where many margins are increasing.

Inflation likely will not be a major factor. Plus, not only are retailers expanding online, so are many vendors, so price pressures continue to be downward. 

So, what IS driving sales increases? We think you will find that it is is all about transactions

  • more items-per-transaction; or,
  • more transactions
Whether at the grocery store, gift shop, lawn and garden center, sporting goods store, or wherever they are shopping, many customers are giving themselves permission to buy more, or to replace ("Finally!") those things they've had for several seasons.  
  • Shoppers are feeling some more confidence, and have a decided case of "frugal fatigue". Enough already, they're saying. There are things we have not bought for a very long time.
  • Shoppers are increasingly purposeful in their shoppingWhen they go to a store (or a website), they have an intent to purchase. The traffic you do receive should yield higher conversion rates.
And all that is very good news. These are shopper behaviors that you can focus on, and increase!
  • Your sales staff can focus on add-on sales, to increase the items-per-transaction.
  • Your buyers can bring in more "impulse items" and more complementary products that lend themselves to add-on sales.
  • Your sales staff also can work on improving their conversion rate of "just looking" browsers to actual paying customers.    
Of course, be grateful for sales increases. Who wouldn't be?

But by analyzing and discovering "WHY?" sales are increasing, you can make them even better. Jump on this chance; it's unique!

Who will win? Who will survive?

"Competing" and "winning" in business and trade has been much in the news as the Trump administration begins.

Meanwhile, at the NRF's BIG Show 2017, where technology dominated (510 retail tech exhibitors!) it was reported that in 2016, "Amazon spent more than $15 billion on innovation, which is more than the top 20 retailers (excluding Walmart) combined." 

Yikes! How is an independent retailer to "compete" and "win" in that environment?

Well, consider this perspective: 

  • A lion and a gazelle wake up on the Serengeti. The gazelle knows that to outrun the lion, it need not be the fastest gazelle. It only has to be the second slowest.

The good news for many retailers is that you don't need to outinvest or even beat Amazon. (Whew!) You just need to outperform your weakest competitor! 

  • Amazon is unquestionably a relentless competitor and growth machine. So too was Wal-Mart. And before that, the "category killers" like Barnes & Noble, Office Depot and Toys 'R Us. And before that, regional malls. Department stores. And on and on.
  • The Big Guys will come and go. There always will be another one emerging.

Through all that, independent retailers who stay focused on their own survival – keeping their own competitive edge, knowing their real competitors – those retailers have continued to have a place in the community. And that is truly a win!