Naeem ArifNaeem ArifMay 13, 2019
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10min465

A recent PWC report highlighted that 2018 saw the largest ‘net loss of retail stores’ on the high street.

We are consistently hearing about a retail ‘crisis’, and how difficult trading conditions suggest the high street is in demise. Our high streets and town centres are often the core of our communities and so we have invested a lot of resources investigating this issue.

However, we still see more than 500 new businesses form each week in the UK, so are we really seeing the demise of the high street or is something else happening?

Research by the Midlands Retail Forum (MRF) indicates that it is not all doom and gloom – there are many great examples of retailers and town centres getting it right. Experts say it’s about creating a great experience, but what does that mean in practical terms?

I recently visited the Touchwood Centre in Solihull and spent some time with their General Manager, Tony Elvin, to see how they were approaching this challenge.

Tony has an impressive CV as a former health club and hotel manager, which led to him being head-hunted to take on the challenge of managing this prestigious shopping outlet in one of the most affluent regions in the country. While many people talk about creating a great experience for their guests, a walk around the centre showed me exactly how his team were living and breathing this concept.

His approach can be summarised in a single sentence: “We are always thinking about how we can create a compelling reason for people to visit Touchwood.”

Where he could have said “important” or “unique”, he uses the word “compelling”, and that tells me the exact emotion that he is trying to create in his target customer. He has two customers in mind – businesses that can become tenants, and visitors to the centre.

Most shopping centres offer free Wi-Fi, coffee shops and easy parking. What else is needed?

“We are constantly looking at finding different ways to increase the number of people who will visit and once here, we want them to stay longer. We know that the longer they stay, the more money they are likely to spend,” Tony tells me.

Visiting somewhere like Touchwood means different things for different people; an avid shopper may want to walk down aisles of stores, browsing way more than they are buying. A focused shopper may need to come in for a specific item, pick it up and leave.

What about the ‘passengers’ – the husband/wife or kids who come along for the ride? The challenge is that a visiting family may have a mix of shoppers, who all need to be entertained. The answer is not to simply have more shops – you have to satisfy all these needs.

Most centres have some form of leisure activity, and in Touchwood’s case it has a cinema, restaurants, bars, and on top of that they also run theme-based activities. Recently they held an Easter egg hunt and a chocolate-themed escape room as a way of keeping kids entertained whilst their parents were shopping.

Some upcoming projects include concept restaurants that combine casual dining with a form of leisure activity. Food is an important part of the Touchwood experience and they are actively looking to strike a balance between trusted brands and new independent eateries to keep what’s on offer fresh and exciting. Tony himself recently helped to secure the arrival of two new independent dining concepts, with the launch of Carribbean eatery Jamaya and Asha’s restaurant in the centre.

“There is a lack of leisure activities available in Solihull and we are looking at more ways to increase those opportunities within Touchwood,” continues Tony.

“If we could get a gym, mini-golf, or bowling here, then it’s another reason for someone to visit and combine some shopping with leisure activities. We were delighted that we were able to entice Jamaya and Asha’s to join the Touchwood family. I knew the owners of each concept and knew that they would offer something different, but also deliver it at the appropriate quality for Touchwood’s visitors.”

The Touchwood team look to market trends as well as conducting their own research to keep updated on what their customers want. Social trends are monitored online, while feedback and comments are seen as opportunities to learn and improve. In addition, they also take feedback from their tenants and visitors and email out surveys.

The things they want to know include:

·      Who is visiting?

·      What triggers a visit?

·      What are the habits when they are in Touchwood?

This research has allowed them to understand that customers who use a click & collect service often go on to spend more when they come to collect. If a visitor is already here, it is more convenient for them to buy additional items in person than  to do so online.

Something Tony learned from his previous experience was how reaching out into the local community can help strengthen relations. Community projects are invited into Touchwood when possible. Recently this has seen them earn a national award by working with local college students to showcase their artwork as well as hosting a Young Enterprise marketplace.

“If we are making money from the local community, then it is imperative that we get involved with that community and ensure we are doing our bit to give back as well,” Tony adds.

“As such we work with local schools, colleges, charities, and businesses as an active participant in Solihull life. Since taking on this role, I have been appointed Vice President of the Solihull Chamber of Commerce and also Deputy Chair of the Solihull BID. By working with the BID, the Chamber, and other local stakeholders there is a far better chance of delivering sustainable success for Solihull and Touchwood.”

The enthusiasm and approach of Touchwood is refreshing and it’s clear they are looking towards partnering up with their tenants and the local community for mutual benefit. While they continue with this approach, will see further success ahead, and there are definitely lessons here to be learned for other shopping centres and high street retailers.


Naeem ArifNaeem ArifApril 5, 2019
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8min781

The focus of many marketers and CEOs is to ensure they are getting the attention of their target customers.

Most of them are spending most of their time and effort on this activity, without thinking about the other related activities. Once you have the attention of your target market and you have them highly engaged in all the content you are producing…what next?

Well hopefully, they will buy from you now; they will accept that you are good at what you do and you align with their own personal values. Up until now, it is all based on you issuing a promise to your prospect that should they follow-through and make that purchase, this is the outcome you will deliver.

I read recently a long article on HBR that stated “highly engaged customers will become loyal customers”, and it got me thinking: this is not necessarily the case. From our own real world experience, yes the two things are linked, but not dependent on each other. Some of the best marketing campaigns do not lead to long-term profit.

If we break this down, a customer is someone who buys from you and a loyal customer is someone who repeat buys from you. So no matter how engaged they are with your content and your brand, they may or may not repeat buy. They could stay engaged in order to receive the content or information because it is educational or amusing, but will they definitely maker another purchase?

This is a separate question completely and there are an increasing number of consumers out there who consume content, but do not buy.

A key realisation will happen at the point when they consume your service. This is the moment of truth, when we will really find out if you deliver on your promises. This is the point at which they decide – does the product taste as good as the packaging?

So far it has been an emotional connection, where they feel this is a good choice for the prospect to make. Now we will see the delivery of this promise. You can either fall short of the promise and maybe lose them, or you can fulfil that promise, in which case you will retain that customer for the future.

At this point, your content marketing is irrelevant; if the product does not match the packaging it will be a failure for your objectives. So no matter how good your engagement strategy is, you will not have a loyal customer.

So a few questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Does your team – who are delivering the service – match the passion, drive, and standards that your sales and marketing staff possess?
  2. Are you interested in this single transaction, or are you willing to treat the customer so well that they want to come back for more?
  3. What is that little bit extra or something different that you are giving that will make you stand out and be more memorable than your competition?

If you want to get loyal customers, then you need to ensure that your operations strategy is in line with your marketing. Building loyalty is not just about a single transaction – it is about many transactions. If you only measure your team on turnover or profit, then there is no reason for them to worry about repeat business. The reality is that the returning customer will firstly buy quicker, and secondly buy bigger or more than they bought last time, because they already know and trust you.

Your team should be thinking about what your customers value, not about how much they can squeeze out of them in this single transaction. I would rather give something that is fit for purpose today, because the customer will appreciate my honesty and come back to me for more. The multiple transactions will deliver more profit to me and so I am interested in the lifetime value of this customer.

A lot of people talk about this concept, when in reality, it is something that has be measured and delivered over a period of time. You need to be ready to see the benefits over time, because you will not see them in the short term. This is why it is important that you are prepared to measure your staff on things other than sales.

If you deliver on this, you could of course exceed expectations and deliver more than what was promised, which is even better. In such cases you will probably have an advocate on your hands – someone who not only returns to you, but actually tells others to also buy your product. Make sure your team understands your strategy here and follows it through.

So if you are thinking that engaged customers will always lead to loyal customers, think again. Consider instead that delighted customers will be what leads to loyalty. 


Naeem ArifNaeem ArifNovember 22, 2018
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9min720

This Friday will see retailers both online and on the high street begin their Black Friday sales, although some stores have already started a Black Friday Week.  

An event that has been carried across the sea from the US, Black Friday is one of the highest grossing days in the retail calendar. If previous years are any indication retailers, specifically online stores, will see a significant increase in sales – with Argos and Amazon receiving an extra £1.4bn in sales thanks to last year’s event.  

However several retailers such as Asda have publicly stated they will not be holding events, preferring instead to concentrate on lower prices all year round rather than flash sales. But for every retailer that is not doing Black Friday there are hundreds that are and if you are thinking of having a Black Friday sale there are several things you need to consider to ensure you run a successful and profitable event.

Make sure the length of your sale is adequate for you

Many stores run their events over more than just the one day with some retailers having events in the week leading up to Black Friday, although Apple hold a four day event starting on Black Friday and continuing over the weekend to Cyber Monday.  

If you do decide to hold a longer event you must think about what promotions you are offering. Having the same offer each day will not bring customers back but if you have a different daily deal you will significantly increase the chance of your customer returning.  Make sure you have plenty of different offers throughout your campaign and at least one big offer that will get customers through the door, something that Martin Lewis would want to shout about.

However, shorter campaigns usually have a higher result for retailers and cause less disruption to the day-to-day running of the business.

Do not overstretch yourselves

Although there are many obvious benefits to holding Black Friday events there can also be issues with running your normal business which could lead to customers receiving a poor service, staff getting stressed and the potential of lost sales. Some stores have cited this as a reason they are not having Black Friday events, including Marks & Spencer’s, as well as the extra problems that can occur once the event has finished. Many customers impulse buy so the amount of items returned in the days after a sale can increase significantly.

If you are considering a Black Friday event you should look into the problems it can cause as well as your own resources. Do you have enough staff? Will your store and tills be able to cope with a large influx of people in such a short time? Will people queuing have any impact on other shoppers trying to move around the store?  A customer who has received a poor experience may give up on their purchase but they may also not return to your store at all and it is worth remembering that a disgruntled customer will tell more people about your bad customer service than a happy customer will about their good service. If you feel that you will be overstretching yourselves it may not be worth holding a sale.

Clear unsold and end of season stock

Even though Black Friday is classed as the start of the Christmas shopping season this can be the perfect way to sell some of your leftover stock.  Out of season stock is unwelcomed by most stores as it can take up space in the warehouse needed for Christmas items. Many shoppers now use this time of year to stock up on garden equipment, furniture sets, outdoor toys and barbecues so by selling your unwanted summer stock everyone is happy!

Have high discounts on limited items

Historically Black Friday has some of the biggest deals of the year which means customers will be looking for the best deals possible.  Some shops offer discounts of between 60-75% which is not always possible on every item. By offering two or three items at a high discount to entice the customer into your store you can then place discounts such as 10-20% on other items.  

For the higher discounted items make sure you have something that will grab the customer’s attention, something that is in demand or the latest fad. Having higher discounts on items that customers do not want can lead to reduced numbers of footfall coming through your doors, regardless of any other offers you have on.

Limit your stock

Many retailers are worried about the implications of having Black Friday sales with the biggest concern being the impact they will have on Christmas sales.  If you limit the amount of stock you have on offer for each item you will encourage customers to head to your store first to get the discount, thus ensuring a higher demand for your shop as well as higher sales.  Customers who have missed out will be more likely to either buy an alternative or to return to your store at a later date to purchase the item at its normal price.

Do not rely on one item to bring in the customers

Although it is important to have a few in-demand items at a higher discount available it is imperative that you also have several promotions at a lower level to encourage your customers’ spending.  If you heavily rely on one or two items you could have problems selling them, for instance, another retailer selling the items at a lower price or in a better bundle, or the customer may not want them.  Many larger retailers – such as Next – display smaller items with minimum discounts next to their heavily reduced items so if their customer does not want one thing, they may want another.

Remember the multi-channel customer

There are some customers who love the idea of heading out first thing in the morning to queue and get the best deals of the day while others will prefer to shop with a cup of tea in front of the television.  Whichever way your customers shop it is essential that you offer your promotions both in-store as well as through your online shop. Online sales often start at midnight although many retailers offer preview events to their members allowing them to see and buy their deals earlier than others.  Not only can this promotion gain you early sales you could also see an increase of members to your loyalty scheme.

If you are thinking about hosting a Black Friday event your strategy will be for one of the biggest retailing events of the year and can be used as a base for any other events such as New Year’s Day sales, just make sure you include all strengths as well as weaknesses to the business as well as what could be the best – and worse – outcome for holding a sale.




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