Why the High Street is being attacked by the equivalent of Garra rufa fish

OK, what is Garra Rufa?

For many of you, you may not be aware of the “beautifying” qualities of the Garra Rufa fish.

A variety of the Turkish toothless carp, this fish has been part of the growing craze offered by beauty therapists around the world to those people that desire beautifully soft feet.

The Garra rufa fish, or “doctor fish”, originates in the river basins of the Northern and Central Middle East, mainly in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This fish is famous for its ability to eat dead, or diseased, human skin while leaving healthy skin untouched.

Over the last couple of years, a fad for “fish pedicures” has sprung up, it began initially in health and beauty resorts but was soon spreading to shopping malls and salons, where you can pay to sit for a few minutes with your feet immersed in tanks full of the hungry little things.

I haven’t done it myself, but I was discussing the trend with someone recently, and it struck me that retail in the UK is being “sloughed away” in a similar fashion to that tired, old, dead skin. Are consumers demanding a better “comfort & experience” away from the “tired & aching” high street?

What’s it got to do with retail?

It’s no secret that the rise of online retailers has slowly but surely eaten away at the “dead skin” of the British retailer. For anyone familiar with some of our recent blogs, we’ve observed that many high street retailers are losing traction with their customer base, leaving it vulnerable to being “grabbed” by newer and more agile retailers that take time to make the effort to engage consumers.

I realise that it’s also no secret that lease costs and business rates are heavily impacting retail, it’s not just about the competition, but it is important to recognise that some brands are just getting it wrong. They either don’t know who their customers are, or if they do, don’t bother to talk to them properly.

Can I prove it?

I love to play a game when I go “physical” shopping (one of my favourite terms). I usually am looking for something particularly specific to purchase (I’m not a window shopper by nature) and most recently I was in the market for a new shirt and a snazzy pair of stylish chino’s.

I entered my favourite men’s apparel retailer, local to me, and was dutifully approached by a younger sales person, who rather imaginatively asked; ”can I help you with anything sir?” To which, in the usual British way, I replied “no thank you, just looking”, however I rather helpfully then go on to say: “for a shirt and chino’s”. Sadly, instead of picking up on the hint, the young man said: “Well, let me know if you need any help” Sigh.

Both are a pet hate of mine, but the worst is yet to come.

A short while later, I’m earnestly waiting at the till, my purchase in hand (only a shirt after all, after the chino colour range was left wanting). When it comes to my turn, the check-out staff are pleasant and smiling, but at no stage did they engage with me about my purchase experience. Did I find what I was looking for?

That would be the absolute minimum I would expect, so I was not surprised when they then didn’t incentivise me to provide them with my data. I’m not talking about the current, pointless, trend of saying “Can I email you your receipt?” Pointless because you can’t email me (other than to send me the aforementioned receipt) unless you give me an explicit opportunity to opt out when I give you my email address and complete the transaction, thanks to the e-privacy regulations.

Just think, if they’d engaged with me at the first point of interaction, and then followed up, they’d know that:

  • I was still in the market for a new pair of chinos
  • That I’d probably give them permission to contact me as a result

  • That I’d probably engage with an offer to come back or place a back order

So what’s the answer?

This happens time and time again; I walk into a retail establishment, part with my cash and waltz out of the place with them having absolutely no idea who I am, or what I might be in the market for next.

It’s maddening, because there’s a reason Amazon are so bloody successful, they align to consumer needs, and don’t just pile it high and expect someone to buy it. And don’t moan to me about “online is easier” either.

For now, in contrast let me now talk about SPOKE. They are an online retailer principally focused on selling Chinos, smart trousers, shorts and now Polo shirts. I came across them the other month as they decided to send me a piece of Direct Mail (DM) (obviously via a data provider who has profiled me, my demographic and aligned to other spending patterns within my other online behaviour) I know how this works and I know it does work.

A very nice A5 catalogue, printed on an uncoated material, naked mailed dropped onto my doormat. It had a strong call to action on the front cover for a first order, or orders over a certain value. I browsed (note: no clicking involved) my way through what was a cleverly crafted piece of literature. It told me about their values, history (building trust in the brand) and more importantly about the quality of their product. All this before I had even got to the product pages.

The expected range of colours and styles for consideration gave me confidence that this was a business that was aligned to my values and that they would have a product just right for me. Once on the Web site, the user interface and “customer journey” takes me through a well thought out sizing guide, and gave me even more confidence to order.

Now, even though this is online, the exact same experience could be reproduced in store, using a person as opposed to a website, so it’s an opportunity open to all retailers.

Three days later a box arrives at my door, branded with consideration and style, and the product beautifully presented with tissue paper. It was reminiscent of opening a new iphone, a very tactile experience. Again, this could be replicated in store, with the consumer being delighted with their purchase all over again when they get home.

Why it worked

Here was a brand that engaged me by evaluating my profile and sending me something relevant, acquired me by offering products that are aligned to my desire for quality. They also offered variety and availability, as well as a great purchase experience. Finally, the box gave me a great reason to buy again, creating delight and reinforcing my confidence in the decision to purchase from them.

What about all the fish?

Going back to those fish I mentioned at the start, Spoke are like the Garra Rufa, eating away at the dead skin of the British retail industry – grabbing customers from those retailers who have yet to raise their game.

Great experiences (not necessarily expensive ones) combined with relevant and engaging content approaches (instore, online and at home) aligns customer and brand to acquire customers, and to build loyalty.

Being a marketing guy, I guess I see the values in their strategy and love the fact that they use print catalogues together with great packaging as an inherent part of the customer journey.

As for the high street? They have to create experiences that entice consumers, and build on the desire to want to know and understand the customers they serve.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how the story unfolds.

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2019-05-03T13:00:46+00:00