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Retail standards should continually ‘peak’ interest

As a result of the circus that was Black Friday 2014, a number of retailers have distanced themselves from the event this time around. Asda recently announced that it would be withdrawing from in-store activity, citing ‘shopper fatigue’, although it will continue to offer deals online. The retailer’s announcement was made even more significant given that the Walmart-owned store was credited with introducing Black Friday to the UK in 2013. Since Asda, several others have followed suit – announcing that they too will be moving Black Friday out of the store and exclusively online.

Other examples are even more extreme. Clearly a step too far for most, but cleverly pitched to opportunely reinforce the brand’s proposition – encouraging customers to skip the sales with the hashtag ‘#OptOutside’ – US, outdoor retailer REI will shut all its 143 stores on Black Friday. But for many retailers, the sales event will simply prove a peak trading opportunity that they believe they can’t afford to miss out on.

Naturally, Black Friday isn’t the only event that retailers and brands are preoccupied with at present. As much as we hate to say it – Christmas is little over a month away. Whether you believe it cannibalises Christmas sales, or not, there is no denying that Black Friday has heaped increased pressure upon the world of retail – slicing right through the middle of festive in-store planning for retailers and brands, as they try to manage two of the biggest shopping events of the year, simultaneously. And once again, that will increase the strain on retail environments and in-store displays as stores are shopped, hard.

What both of this increasingly complex and hugely important trading period highlights is that, typically, it is when retail is at ‘peak’ – either online or offline – that operational vulnerabilities come to light. Websites and retail display standards alike can crack when heavily shopped, and quickly fall down in the face of such strong shopper demand. So, given how much pressure retail operations will be under over the coming weeks, there is surely no better time to draw attention to the fact that more needs to be done to ensure in-store compliance is delivered, and maintained when it matters most.

But why stop there? When exactly does matter most? Indeed, should there be a distinction between retail standards a few weeks before Christmas and a few weeks into the middle of May, or September, or any month come to think of it? Yes, it’s vital that retail displays are correctly installed and merchandise to maximise sales during peak trading periods. But shouldn’t retailers and brands be trying to maximise sales in every store, every day of the year?

Asda stated that its decision to tone down Black Friday activity was not only due to ‘shopper fatigue’, but also because it instead wanted to focus on delivering everyday low prices to its customers, rather than on one-day sales events. Frankly, that’s how retailers and brands should view compliance and retail standards, too – not just getting it right for a few days or weeks a year, but achieving excellence every single day. The difference would be clear to see on the shop floor, through an improved customer experience and, most importantly of all, on the bottom line.

From a retail operation perspective, functionality is key. Retail teams must be able to merchandise displays quickly and easily to maintain best practice presentation standards during busy and quieter trading periods alike. Failure to consider this will negatively impact on both the shopping experience and the brand, cause frustration for customers and, ultimately, result in lost sales. But all too often such practicalities can be easily forgotten during the ‘excitement’ of developing and designing the next wow display. Yes, a large percentage of purchases may happen in the first few days of a promotion or new display launching in a store – so creating impact and engagement is clearly important – but an equally large proportion of sales may be lost in the days after if displays haven’t been designed with ongoing compliance and store standards considerations in mind. Like cute puppies at Christmas, store standards shouldn’t just be thought about for a few days a year – but shown love and care, all year round.