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Amid retail slump, businesses should reinvent themselves and focus on customers

Amid a slowing economy, the retail sector seems to be bearing the brunt as consumers seek more bang for their buck.
Businesses, for their part, must roll with the punches to stay viable.

In a sluggish retail market, businesses must roll with the punches to stay viable, says the writer.

In a sluggish retail market, businesses must roll with the punches to stay viable, says the writer.

Lee Teck Chuan

I refer to the news feature, “The Big Read: It’s survival of the fittest, as retail household names shrink or disappear” (Dec 28).

Amid a slowing economy, the retail sector seems to be bearing the brunt as consumers seek more bang for their buck. 

In their frenzy to survive, some businesses may overlook their customers as they downsize, merge, outsource and divest their operations. 

Customers are forced to fit how retailers like to sell, which results in disjointed buying experiences. Service is compromised as responsibilities are frayed across the varied parties along the value chain.

The high employee turnover in the retail industry has also resulted in poor product knowledge and service attitudes.

Leaving an impression on customers goes beyond a one-off transaction, and it is telling when a salesperson is after a commission and pays little heed to what customers want.

A customer’s perceptual value of a transaction will generate repeat business, which is often lost on transient service crew members.  

It is strange that while we think more people are shopping online, crowds still throng shopping malls.

We are social animals and malls allow patrons the space to feel that they belong. We want to be acknowledged for who we are. In addition, nothing beats holding and touching a product, and enjoying service in a retail space. 

The buying experience is greatly enhanced in a store. Online buying is dehumanising and cannot replace the spatial value of brick-and-mortar retailers.

A mall’s retail mix positions a store to attract the customers it wants. Positioning cannot be left to chance, as customers are discerning about where they want to spend their time.

Differentiation is still key in establishing a niche, bringing a brand to mind for certain products or services.

Unsurprisingly, the size of a mall is no panacea for sluggish footfall. Stores end up cannibalising one another by having too much of the same offering.

Consumers are also increasingly spoilt for choice as they travel widely and have information readily available on the internet. 

We should enlarge the competitive arena. Designing a unique value proposition will be challenging, but it is possible with imagination and effort.

The market is dynamic and businesses must roll with the punches to stay viable. 

Ultimately, it always pays to ask: What do customers want?

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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retail shopping shopping centre consumer business

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