Beauty, business

What we want! What must retailers do to survive?

Retail Word Cloud

Consumers can be fickle – what’s the brand of the moment one day can be off the menu the next. In social media we flit from one platform to the next. One day Periscope is the next big thing, the next you’re asking the question is Periscope dying? Instagram is the best for visuals isn’t it? – but what about Snapchat? it’s easier to be reactive and you don’t need a theme… you get  my point. Everything is instant, transient and disposable.

The pace of change in consumer demand is soaring. High Street brands are failing to evolve quickly enough and are falling by the way side. The odds are stacked in favour of the buyer. If a physical store or UK online brand doesn’t have what we want then we can seek it out, ship it over and make it the focus of a social media storm in moments.

Now I’m not a business visionary or a retail expert but I’ve been observing what’s been going on in the retailsphere (is that a word? It is if I want it to be – get enough people behind it on line and it’ll be in the next dictionary update!).There have been a few notable losses on the high street in recent weeks. When I say noticeable – they’re well known names but if you ask yourself when you last shopped in them you find yourself asking who were their customers and in some cases saying – oh I didn’t know they were still going! I’m talking the likes of BHS and Austin Reed and that’s just this week!

You have to wonder why such longstanding brands went wrong. Their CEOs were paid shed loads of cash and they had the opportunity to use the best PR, marketing and advertising methods and yet they’ve failed. Sometimes I make a mental list of who I think will be next because I think that there are some real big players out there that won’t be around if they don’t evolve and stay in touch with what people want, when they want it and (I think most importantly) how people identify with brands.

Every year, you hear the likes of M&S reporting losses and struggles in a market that they’ve got years of expertise in. They’ve identified their customer as Mrs M&S. What? They say that their typical customer is a middle aged woman. Urgh! Now I’m in the target audience for the brand but I really don’t feel comfortable with the descriptor Mrs? I’m not married. I may be in my 50s but I don’t want to shop somewhere that’s for older people. I want to shop somewhere aspirational and inspirational.

Let me give you a little insight into how last Sunday went for me and what led me to thinking about the mess that some stores have got themselves into. I went shopping in Wimbledon, just to have a mooch around the beauty counters and see if I’d been missing anything by spending all my time on line.

First up I went to a Elys an independent department store – the beauty section is pristine and most of the major brands are there and…the staff were looking bored and didn’t interact with the customers. So, even though I was intrigued by the Dior lash primer – I swept out and headed to Debenhams.

In Debenhams I hesitated by the one counter – I think Clarins – to check my phone and got immediate attention – box ticked. But then – oh dear – at the Benefit counter – there were customers being attended to but one assistant doing her own mascara at the counter??

Next was Superdrug and here I found reassuringly that the retail space has kept up it’s improvements in staffing and layout and have all the best high street brands (love Sleek and Make Up  Revolution especially!) but then – there were so many of the stands that had non working lighting #fail.

So across the mall I went to Boots and more display disasters! The Seventeen stand was covered in Selotape to hold it together and all the testers were smeared over the shelves. That was it, I’d had enough of Wimbledon’s offerings and I couldn’t help but take to Twitter to rant.

Now both Debenhams and Boots responded rapidly and apologetically to take up my “complaints” (I didn’t want to complain just to raise awareness) so this tells me that at least a part of their businesses understand the influence of social media. Yet  it appears that they aren’t utilising it as a resource to take the pulse of what consumers want.

Here’s my thinking for what it’s worth. We’re all time poor. If we want to buy something we can buy it on line while we’re watching our favourite Netflix series. If we choose to spend time visiting a retail space then we want an experience. We want, ambience, slick service and exceptional products. That’s why we have the emergence of the beauty wonderland that is Covent Garden. Name a top beauty brand – they have a flag ship store there. Nars just opened there this week.

So, here’s my message retailers – in the beauty trade or elsewhere. Work out what your customers are about and listen to them. Look at what their influences are and anticipate their aspirations or you’ll be cast aside  and consigned to history.

What do you think? Are you frustrated by retailers that don’t appreciate you? Do you think that big retailers take their existence for granted? Or do you think they’re like swans pretending things are ok on the surface but paddling like crazy underneath? Tell me about your shopping experiences in the comments section below or on your favourite social media channel – I promise to try and keep up!





5 thoughts on “What we want! What must retailers do to survive?”

  1. Great post and some very interesting points raised there. I’ve have always been put off by counter staff, I always have since I started beauty shopping in my teens. Some are just so rude and condescending that it immediately makes me walk out of the store and go to Boots! Talking of Boots, a massive high street retailer with broken and dirty displays smacks of laziness to me. In this day and age I don’t think there is any excuse for it. The high street has to fight harder to get our custom these days and should appreciate these basic standards xxx


    1. Actually it was a poor experience in a department store beauty hall that made me think about blogging! The Boots manager contacted me with a tale about someone being off sick and offered to meet with me and give me points on my advantage card. I don’t think he understood the wider implications. I thanked him and declined the offer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting post Hazel. I have long been surprised that in store beauty counters don’t make more of an effort, because that is their point of difference with online shopping. If they were a treat to visit, we would visit more instead of searching out the best deal online. A point in case is Space NK which seems to be very haphazard with its customer service – some shops are great, whilst others treat you like something they’ve scraped off their shoe. On the other hand, Kiehls and Marks and Spencer beauty department are both very good in having consistently good service.

    I suspect we notice these things more as when you are in your 40s and 50s, many beauty counter staff in their twenties regard you as having one foot in the grave and aren’t exactly in a rush to assist. This is why the good ones really stand out and are the ones I will go back to.


    1. Thanks Joanne. I rarely complain but occasionally feedback on my experiences. Brands just need to wise up on where they can usefully gain feedback and who the influencers are.


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