I mentioned last week about my disenchantment with big high-street brands losing touch with their customers…which is something I feel strongly about.
I have worked for a number of those brands in my time – financial services, retail, travel – and get, more than most, how reliant you are on coaxing customers through the door in the first place.
Two stories, if I may. First, my point from last week – the lack of empowerment (and dare I say, the down-skilling) of the local store/branch manager. I can recall when the local bank manager was the pillar of society, someone revered in the local community, with real knowledge and gravitas. It wasn’t so long ago that when the local bank manager changed branches, many of his/her customers would transfer with them. Nowadays, I doubt my local bank manager has started to shave yet, and my local grocery store has a different ‘manager’ every week.
Perhaps readers remember the TV programme Are You Being Served? It was set in a 1970s/80s department store, and each department (floor) had a different manager. The sitcom was based around Captain Peacock, the clothing manager. His job was to welcome customers as they came out of the lift, and guide them to the counter best placed to help them. He had character and presence. My question is that if retail banking is struggling so much to re-engage with consumers post-crash, why doesn’t it invest in some kind of senior ‘floor walker’? Perhaps a more mature member of staff, who could reassure customers and start the cross-selling process?
The answer, I fear, is the internet and the failure of the high street, even today, to get its head around how the web fits in its value chain, which is my second point. I was talking to someone in a high street travel brand recently, who said that their biggest competitor was the brand’s own online presence. The rush to impose sales targets on everyone creates behaviour that completely misses the way customers operate. My partner recently bought a jumper online from a major brand. It was the wrong size, so she tried to take it back to the store. But oh no, she had to return it in the post to the “online department”. There was no integration.
And that is why I fear for the future of the high street…