Maintaining a Competitive Edge in the Evolving State of Retail

Summary: The state of the retail industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. Now, more than ever, retail managers should reassess their business practices, along with the practices of competitors. The most convenient way to do this is through consultations with a retail management coach.

English: Logo of Circuit City, now-defunct US ...

The U.S. retail industry has experienced a transforming revolution spurred by an influx of consumer education and an unstable economy. The consequences of this volatile combination mean that no business, regardless of how established or successful it is, is safe from being made obsolete by an increasingly perceptive competition. In order to stay in commerce and outrival competing businesses, companies and their leadership must stand out from the rest.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American retail sales were growing by leaps and bounds each year throughout the 90’s and beginning of the 21st century. Retailers were flourishing, and businesses seemed to have no problem reporting regular quarterly profits. Enter 2008, when suddenly sales plummeted, and businesses reported significantly lower retail sales than in the previous year, essentially confirming the arrival of a nationwide recession.

English: Seal of the United States Census Bure...Major retail giants and countless smaller retailers began an immediate tumble. Companies were forced to fight harder for sales and adapt to the changing needs of consumers. For example, major electronics retailer Circuit City appeared to have a solid footing, but less than one month after the great stock market plummet of October 2008, the Circuit City filed for bankruptcy, liquidated its assets and quickly closed all of its store locations. Other major retailers that filed for bankruptcy in economically tumultuous 2008 include Linens-N-Things and Steve and Barry’s. One must wonder if better company organization and leadership abilities could have saved these affordable, middle class-friendly shopping chains.

Today, the effects of the recession linger on, fresh in the minds of consumers. Customers are more savvy and wiser in their spending habits. The age of buying on credit has come to a screeching halt, and consumers are more interested in saving than spending. When they are ready to make a purchase, it is more likely to be an informed decision based on product comparisons, reviews and affordability.

With the increasing availability of the Internet, consumers are becoming more and more informed of product capabilities, faults and prices. Websites are scattered all over the web offering product reviews and price comparisons. Few consumers come into a store to make a major purchase without having done some research. Rather than focusing on fancy store displays and neat uniforms, these customers are more interested in being able to approach a store employee to receive knowledgeable assistance, as well as fair pricing and friendly customer service.

Retailers who want to maintain a competitive edge above the rest can do so by understanding their customer demographic and implementing pertinent leadership skills to their management, starting with corporate executives and trickling down to store employees. When retailers understand that every team member is a leader in some capacity and will serve as the face of the company for all customers he or she comes in contact with, it is then that the business can begin to establish conscientiousness and dependability within all levels of employment.

Consumers International

Consumers understand now, more than ever, that they have many options. In addition to competing brick and mortar retailers in their immediate shopping area, online retailers are throwing curveballs with free home shipping and regular rock-bottom sale prices. Many customers will not waste their time in a store that doesn’t make them feel welcome and appreciated.

So how does a retailer improve the customer service experience for patrons who walk into their doors? The answer lies in retail management. From assistant managers and store managers, to corporate customer service specialists and executives, all employees should abide by the philosophy that the customer comes first. Strong leadership capabilities will always outshine the competition, resulting in closing a sale.

Many of the most recognizable companies already recognize the changing economic rules of retail and are implementing leadership courses to employees. The goal is to give each manager a sense of responsibility in their stores. This pride flows through the hierarchy of leadership down to entry level employees. Though each store in a franchise looks the same and has the same prices, store managers have the ability to not only hire employees, but also to motivate and educate them, resulting in a better customer experience.

Specifically, store managers must understand that it is up to them to excel in business. A manager cannot control what competitors do, and must instead contend to control the environment that he or she holds sway over. It is essential that managers vie for consistently improving skill sets and regularly inform themselves of their own companies’ and their competitors’ marketing techniques, pricing strategies, strengths, weaknesses and appearances. Sitting on the laurels of a business degree and previous training will not cut it in today’s and tomorrow’s retail economy.

Leadership courses that teach these skills may not be new to the retail industry, but they are highly effective. In the past, retailers had to call mandatory meetings for management and employees, or spend resources and finances on flying them to a leadership conference. This often concluded with a large bill, unhappy employees and a lack of one-on-one training. Today, the retail coaching landscape has changed dramatically to encourage businesses to utilize online educational resources instead. Internet retail coaches should be encouraging, reputable, well-informed, easily contacted and current with economic trends.

Most retail leadership training will teach managers how to conduct consumer surveys, customer service observations and online searches of competitor information. Managers then learn how to properly evaluate this information and then implement the outcome into everyday business practices. Managers become skilled at translating the weaknesses of competitors into successes and strengths for their own companies, as well as recognizing and mending their own weaknesses. Above all, a reliable retail coach can teach managers clever ways to execute these newfound skills with methods that are innovative, cost-efficient and attractive.

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