And the best retailer in Australia is….

July 9, 2007

I had dinner the other night with a couple of retail consulting giants, one local, one international and the conversation took us to trying to find the most innovative retailer in Australia.

The combined brain power of my dinner companions gave us an encyclopaedic knowledge of the retail scene around the world and we quickly established criteria to judge our finalists by.

To win, the retailer had to offer a unique customer experience, have great ROI, be a category leader, be innovative and forward sighted and we began to sort and sift contenders from near and far to come up with a short list.

Try as we might, the list was short and the contenders few. It was not because there aren’t many great retailers in Australia, because there are; it is because so many of them – even the great ones, don’t routinely and uniformly live up their implied promises.

I had a recent experience of finding a pair of shoes in a Sydney store that I wanted, but they didn’t have my size – the superb customer service saw the attendant find my size in Melbourne which she then put on hold for me. Two days later in Melbourne at the same retailer, same fit out, ready to be dazzled and buy, I waited while an attendant and customer finished their long and loud conversation, to find that they were two sales attendants discussing last night’s social events.

Eventually one of the attendants peeled themselves away and asked in a very disinterested way what I wanted and then proceeded to bring out the shoes that were placed on hold and then disappear never to be seen again.

The shoes didn’t fit, and with no attendant interest and no service, they let a certain sale sail out the door.

How can one store perform so well, whilst the other perform so badly?

The fault here is not entirely with the staff, but partly with the retailer.

The question is, why shouldn’t the staff slack off? Apart from the threat of keeping their job what else is in it for them? (and in today’s employment world, where Gen Y and X believe they will quickly find alternate employment, the threat of dismissal is often not much of a threat).

This is one of those age old conundrums that never finds a complete answer. But as the world speeds up and flattens out and consumers are drowning in a sea of sameness and uniformity, we must move to empower our staff to think and act locally.

My examples of the best retailers in Australia and their examples of the best world retailers were all stores that could see the big picture and translate it into a great store concept and product, had impressive but unobtrusive technology to cope with, the back end logistics and empowered their staff to think and act locally.

This localisation allows the staff to translate the global head office picture into a localised neighbourhood offering by establishing a café culture within the store that encourages staff, management, head office and customers to interact easily and effortlessly and like a café encourage the open sharing of needs, wants, desires and gossip.

When these key ingredients are made important and included in the retail mix, the store will invariably thrive because it is built on a renewable and endless energy source of emotion and feeling; the emotion and feeling of self worth and relevance, which is the one thing that we can never get enough of and will come back to buy, and be a part of, over and over again.