Is shopkeeping the art of retail?

7 01 2013

It’s been famously said that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, and whilst the term itself seems old fashioned, good old fashioned shopkeeping practices are increasingly important for retailers to adopt both on the High Street and online.

These practices always focused on genuine customer service, a true willingness to want to help customers and continual customer engagement. In many ways your local shopkeeper was your friend.

I know this from experience, as when I was growing-up my grandmother had a corner shop which every Saturday you could guarantee people would be queuing up outside to get in. She ran a very good business, and her recipe for success was simple; customers could simply drop off their shopping lists and she’d have their orders delivered. This made good sense as her customers could use this small corner shop without ever needing to go the supermarket.

Now what really made my grandmother an exceptional shopkeeper is the fact that she never once delivered an incomplete order. Instead, I’d often accompany her to the competitors’ shops where she’d buy all the missing items she didn’t have in stock for the orders and I’d be in the backroom taking the price labels off! (I think it best we just glance past any ethical issues here and just call this entrepreneurial spirit on her part!)

The reason for doing this was simple, my grandma knew if she didn’t go and buy the items her customers would have to make the journey themselves and she’d risk losing their customer altogether. So whilst she’d make no profit on these items, she knew she was keeping her customer happy, which in turn kept them shopping in her shop.

Of course the shop was also the font of all local gossip which only served to help make it more popular and more successful.

This type of shopkeeping is exactly what customers want and successful retailers large and small are capable of delivering it, provided they choose to take a customer centric approach to their retail business.

Rightly so, John Lewis (www.johnlewis.com) immediately springs to mind, and with partners who are knowledgeable, approachable and helpful the business deserves to be successful.

However it’s also possible to be a good online shopkeeper and I’d certainly suggest that Pedlars (www.pedlars.co.uk) is a perfect example of this. They have a great product offering, which is further enhanced by the ways they proactively engage with their customers and potential customers both on their website and through social media. This helps people to connect with Pedlars and feel a part of their unique proposition.

Likewise in my hometown of Penarth, the Hampton’s store(www.hamptons-design.co.uk)is exceptionally well engaged with its customers. This is shown by the extra services they offer including a dedicated Doggie Diner – for customers’ dogs to enjoy a Doggiechino, evening events, a strong social media presence and most importantly proprietors visible on the shop floor interacting with customers.

Whilst retail will continue to be challenging in 2013, be it online or in-store retailers that pay attention to detail and most importantly their customers will be likely to be best placed to have a successful year. If that means thinking like my grandma the shopkeeper – go for it!

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