In the first of a regular feature, PCR asks its Retail Advisory Panel what they think about the latest issue facing the technology retail sector.
DEAN KRAMER, DIXONS RETAIL
Customers shopping for electronics and computing products online generally visit a store at some point in their journey (particularly in the case of large ticket purchases such as laptops, TVs and domestic appliances).
Therefore retailers do not necessarily have a challenge in getting customer to visit stores – the challenge is to engage the customers who visit stores with friendly, expert advice.
Technology increasingly plays a bigger role in our lives, so working with it successfully involves at some stage a quality conversation. If the customer is happy with their advice, we need to offer superbly priced and suitably sized ranges and demonstrate the product in a compelling way, in an inviting store environment.
Our job is to enlighten the customer on the possibilities of technology, and help them select the right products for their needs, and offer services which make it easy for them to activate, connect or work their devices together.
Lastly, we need to offer convenience to customers in buying from us, be it home delivery, collect at store, online ranges collected in store or a store purchase.
JASON ECCLES, SIMPLYFIXIT
We will never be able to compete with Tesco on the price of a laptop. But no matter how many times you wander around their aisles you will never find someone who can transfer emails from your old computer onto that new laptop. We can do that.
It’s our job to not look at what eBuyer and Tesco do well, but to look at the areas they can’t deliver in, and for us to be the best we can at that.
Get a good name amongst your customers. Every ecommerce site on the net understands the importance of reviews and tries to show you how many people have shopped with them before today and loved it.
But in a local community the power of a recommendation from a real person is worth money in the till. If a friend says that they have used a shop and got great service, that is much more likely to persuade you to shop there than all the banner ads in China.
Finally, some stores will close. Big chains that seemed like they were permanent fixtures on the High Street. But in their place, others will start up. People with ideas outside the norm. Or rather, outside the perceived norm.
In these austere times it makes sense that customers buying food will shop around and buy the cheapest. It’s easy to do with sites like mysupermarket.com but the brand that is doing best of all is Waitrose. The staff are friendly – the shops are clean, well lit – and the food is premium quality. Maybe that’s what customers want.
LORELEI GIBB, DOLPHIN COMPUTER UPGRADES
We’ve found that we are getting more and more calls from clients saying they have bought the latest operating system, or have installed new software, or have a new laptop/computer, and they have no idea how to use it.
Price is never going to be the deciding factor for independent retailers; you cannot compete with online prices.
However, giving away something ‘for free’ is always enticing. Why not offer clients a ‘free’ seminar or workshop based around the question you’ve received or on the latest update or equipment?
These workshops could be run on a regular basis and all attending could be asked for their contact details to help increase your marketing database.
CRAIG HUME, UTOPIA COMPUTERS
Being in the technology sector has some benefits. Many consumers, enthusiasts included, like to be able to talk over a purchase before they invest in it. It's not like we are selling t-shirts.
Computers can be complicated and when people are looking after their cash, they want to be completely sure that they are investing in the right solution.
Leveraging the services that online retailers can't offer customers is key to a High Street retailer’s success as a large percentage of customers prefer the personal touch and the assurance that comes along with a High Street store.
Consumers like to see and touch a product before they buy it and this is when well trained, polite sales staff can inspire confidence in the store and you will see a good conversion of sales.
It is important that your entire sales process is painless, especially your returns, so that encourages return custom. If it is a hassle to bring something back, your customer may as well have bought it online.
It's pointless trying to ignore online retailers, so it is important to focus on what they cannot offer, so things like making display items interactive are extremely important.
For example, if you are selling a gaming PC, have one set up in store running the latest games for your customers to try out.
This may seem very obvious, but there is no substitute for trying the real thing before you buy it. As long as you are not hugely more expensive than online retailers, you will almost always get the sale.
When in store make sure your customer is welcomed by a smiling face and that the store is clean, tidy and smells nice.
Again, these things sound obvious, but it's amazing how many computer stores I have personally gone into and they look as if they haven’t been cleaned in weeks.
C KOHLI YOYOTECH
Britain has always been known as a nation of shopkeepers. Unless the UK Government steps in with some intelligent solutions, we see a continuing decline in High Street stores across the nation.
Help from central and local government has meant the proliferation of Tesco and Sainsbury’s mini-stores on many High Streets – coupled with strict parking controls – which combine to significantly reduce revenue to other stores.
Look down Tottenham Court Road in central London and it’s like a ghost town. Much of the blame must lie with local authorities.
The British Government needs to wake up, get out of bed with the majors and start thinking very clearly about boosting grass-roots business.
DUNCAN RUTHERFORD, DABS.COM
There is a place for bricks and mortar though, for me as a consumer I’d say it’s all about experience.
Retail needs to be more about hands-on usability and lifestyle, helping customers understand how technology fits into their life, how it can benefit their work-life balance and maximise their free time.
Too many stores rely on a product on a shelf with a price and a sales person being driven by commission – notably, those retailers seem to be dying out.
People want to feel like they are making up their own minds these days, and so the bricks and mortar retailers that succeed are about getting you hands on with products and explaining how to get the best out of them.
Even though they are a manufacturer as well, the best example are Apple Stores – they ‘aid a customer’s decision-making’ rather than dictating what people should buy.
Independent retailers need to adapt to this model in my opinion, if they want to bring more custom into store.
JAT MANN, PC PAL
My advice would be to allow customers to order directly from the retailer's website, but then create a compelling reason to come and pick up the item from the store (similar to other collect and pick-up services).
Knowledge and support of products can be a USP and this needs to be utilised better.
The problem many retailers face is the substantial High Street rents and the lack of margin in electrical products. The rent issue is a whole society issue and cannot be solved easily.
Meanwhile, the internet is not going anywhere, so building a strong website presence is key.