By Peter Sheppard
Senior Deployment Consultant, Retail Doctor Group 

As most of us will recall one of our school set works by the famous author and philosopher William Shakespeare was – “The Merchant of Venice”. In this fable, he eloquently describes how this merchant worked on every angle to improve his financial position to rid himself from the powers of Shylock, to whom he owed money. The story talks about how he sought ways to improve his financial position, using every known method and guile, to the innovative trial and error and with a dedicated effort for escaping the debt.

It was a lesson of life that could be revisited in modern-day retailing. Or more aptly, what has happened to the noble art of “the shop”?

Observing the retail world today, it strikes me that many small independent operators are not acting as innovative retailers who should be more dedicated to the art of selling their goods, or if you like, “putting their products within the danger of being sold”.

It has been the period of closures and the concentration on the online aspects of retail, but many stores are “same old, same old”. There is no excitement, no change in their appearance with boring displays that do not reflect new and exciting products and internal fixturing and merchandising that could be “oh so 2000’s”. Shops are migrating from one campaign to another, perhaps this is the curse of the planogram.  Shop windows are as static as their parent company’s website’s homepages. Team members are not taught to visually merchandise, schmooze and delight their customers.

Remember that as people come out of hibernation and return to prior shopping habits and methods, there is a great opportunity to show them that you and your business have evolved into a new and exciting place to be.

The vast majority of sales are still happening in bricks and mortar stores, somewhere around 85 % in most categories. So, what can you do to become a great merchant again?

The word merchant is described as “an individual that buys a product to sell at a profit”. In order to do this, you need to stand back and look at your business through the customer’s eyes. What do they see? What is your point of difference? Why should they enter your store?

In doing this you need to better understand what your customer sees. Some key questions good merchants continuously ask themselves include:

  • How do I create windows that are compelling, theatrical and invite the peel off?
  • What skills are my team lacking to deliver this?
  • How do I generate that impulse and additional value in my shop layout?
  • How can I serve them better, provide additional perceived value and how can I treat them in a more pleasant way than my competitors?
  • What am I doing to become connected to them, how can I make them loyal, repeat customers?
  • What can I do to “work” my shop floor to make it a more pleasant place, whilst showing off my best products?
  • What are the absolute key items that I am famous for and how can I grow this “core” business?
  • Do I understand the market trends, what is happening in my domain and how can I react to those changes e.g., as a result of the recent pandemic, we are seeing people avoiding large busy areas and shopping locally, with price only a secondary consideration)?

Merchants of old did not have the tools we have today to analyse sell-throughs, manage stocks and help customers but they did it using their brain and knowledge of their business. The modern tools are wonderful if you know how to use them to empower yourselves and act on the information they provide. However, too many retailers are not “merchants” in the true sense in that they are not continually reviewing and reacting to what their customers are telling them through their behaviours.

I think a back-to-basic exercise in a retail business often spurs into action the fundamental points required for a successful business.

Talk to the Deployment team at Retail Doctor Group and see how we can put the merchant back into your business. Contact us at