Stores must “dovetail” with online presence

A report from The Local Data Company (LDC) shows how online shopping is helping the high street. The shop vacancy rate fell to 14.2% in 2012 from 14.3% in 2011. Matthew Hopkinson, LDC director, says: “Online is driving growth for a majority of retailers and so 2013 is all about the supporting roles that shops will have as ‘customer experience’ centres and showrooms, as much as transactions through their till.” However, retailers still need to ‘right size’ their retail estates.

Dr Dacko, asssociate professor of marketing and strategic management at Warwick Business School, says differentiation is key and that retailers have to be smart to make sure their shops not only offer something unique but dovetails with their online presence: “There is so much online competition that stores need to differentiate themselves to survive. On the one hand they need to be seamlessly integrated with their online offerings. And at the same time they need to offer something different in their stores. It is too easy for consumers to make price comparisons these days, so it makes sense that stores look to make themselves different.They can do that by emphasising local needs, which could be the bakery or butchers using locally-sourced food. Or they can offer a unique ambience, a unique shopping experience, Wi-Fi, high quality products or service. They could offer exceptional value like the 99p stores or click and collect.”

New MD for Panasonic

Andrew Denham will take over as Panasonic managing director from Keith Evans on 1st April. He is currently European brand strategy director.

Speaking of his new role, Mr Denham said: “It’s an exciting time at Panasonic. We are expanding our products and services every year and are committed to enhancing the lives of our customers far beyond the living room into all areas of the home and beyond… Through our business customers, we’re also enhancing people’s experiences in the areas of automotive, retail, avionics and energy. I look forward to building our UK market presence, working closely with all our partners.”

Consumers keep taking the tablets

Research by GfK shows that sales of tablet computers grew by 267% in 2012. More media tablets were sold in December 2012 than notebook computers in the whole of Q4 2012, driven by substantial price falls. Sales of protective cases also grew substantially.

GfK account manager Robyn Tovey said: “It seems likely media tablet sales will continue to grow in 2013 as the availability of lower priced devices has made buying a tablet a more viable purchase for many consumers. Likewise, tablet cases could be expected to be the key selling product of the luggage market this year.”

Future High Streets Forum launched

Following the Portas Review, the government has launched the Future High Streets Forum. The Forum will be co-chaired by Mark Prisk, Local Growth minister, and Alex Gourlay, chief executive of the health & beauty division Of Alliance Boots. Members include representatives from the British Retail Consortium, the British Property Federation, the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Association of Town & City Management, the Association of Convenience Stores, and John Lewis.

Mark Prisk said: “It is clear that our high streets will need to change to prosper. There is already great work being done across the country to revitalise the town centres, but it needs to spread further faster. The Future High Streets Forum will help us do that.”

Encouraging signs in February

Retail sales had a real boost in February – on a like-for-like basis, they were up 2.7% from February 2012. On a total basis, sales were up 4.4%, the fastest growth rate since February 2010.

The British Retail Consortium’s Director General, Helen Dickinson, said: “There are certainly highly-welcome signs here of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive. February saw growth across all parts of retailing, with big-ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well, possibly reflecting better conditions in the housing market.”

She went on to call for the Budget this month to support consumers and retailers to ensure these figures are not just a short-lived phenomenon.

Retail/FMCG trends for 2013

The Retail Bulletin and ResearchFarm have produced a report predicting Retail/FMCG trends for 2013. The bad news is that the economy in 2013 looks little better than 2012. However, there is good potential for smart TVs, mobile technology, and Big Data. It believes that the supply chain will be a major issue – with key topics including load sharing, load utilisation and the move to same day delivery. “Immediacy” will be a big trend – with retailers trying to remove any barriers from the shopping process and speed up conversions and check outs through AR capabilities, QR codes and direct CTAs, as well as same day delivery to move closer to a ‘one click shopping’ experience. To obtain the free 60-page report you just need to complete an online form via:

Getting to Know Matt Froggett

Here’s another revealing interview with one of our recent joiners. Matt joined our Web team in August 2012 straight from Hills Road Sixth Form in Cambridge.

Q. How did you get into the software industry?
A. I have always been interested in IT – and I started teaching myself a variety of IT skills from about the age of 12. It’s the only thing I have ever been really keen on.

Q. What do you most enjoy about working here?
A. The free cakes at least once a week!

Q. What have been the biggest challenges at Cromwell?
A. Just getting used to being in a professional workplace. College doesn’t teach you what to expect or how to cope with it.

Q. If you weren’t in your current role what would you choose to do?
A. I’d be at University but, sad to say, I’d didn’t get the grades.

Q. How would you describe yourself?
A. Confident, individualistic, materialistic – and happy all the time.

Q. Who, or what, makes you laugh?
A. The whole of life. It’s all funny, and I don’t have a favourite comedian, film, TV programme, book or music that I turn to when I need a laugh.

Q. Anything about yourself you’d like to change?
A. Quite a lot – starting with my height. I’m too short and dream of being six foot tall. Then there’s the size of my forehead – which is far too big. Oh, and I really wish I could stop biting my fingernails. I guess I have far too many hang-ups!

Q. Favourite food and drink?
A. I don’t have fancy tastes. I really enjoy curry, especially chicken tikka masala, and a nice cup of Typhoo (not necessarily at the same time). Plus anything you can buy at Starbucks.

Q. Biggest regret?
A. Losing interest at College and not getting the grades I needed to get into Uni.

Q. If you ruled the world for a day what would you do?
A. I’d make everyone shorter than me so they could all see what it’s like to be looked down on.

Q. What’s your pet hate?
A. Very little bugs me, but I suppose buses and trains being late are a real pain as I can’t drive and I rely on them.

Q. What’s your greatest achievement to date?
A. Learning all the skills and knowledge I have today – much of it self-taught.

Q. Who has had the biggest influence on your life?
A. My Dad. He’s a very successful businessman and a great role model.

Q. Who or what would you consign to Room 101?
A. Spiders. I find them the weirdest creatures and really can’t stand them.

Q. All-time favourite TV programme?
A. Believe it, or not, I don’t watch TV. There’s always something more interesting or useful to do.

Q. What’s your favourite piece of kit?
A. My iPhone 5.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
A. Hopefully in London. I definitely feel the lure of the bright lights.

Q. Surfing or Safari?
A. Neither. My favourite holiday is just lazing around on a beach or beside a pool – zero effort involved.

Q. What surprises you?
A. My alarm clock.

Q. Do you have any hidden talents?
A. I have a freaky finger on my left hand. You really need to see it to understand! Not sure how useful it is, though, so maybe it’s more of an accident of birth than a real talent.

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island who would you most want to land on the beach?
A. Someone – anyone – with a seaworthy boat that could get me out of there.

Retail employment up, stores down

The British Retail Consortium has announced that retail employment in the UK rose by 0.6% in Q4 2012 compared with a year earlier. This is despite a record fall in the number of shops in the period: 3.6%.

Helen Dickinson, BRC director general, said: “The fact that total employment edged up during this quarter, driven by part-time workers, is a shaft of light against an otherwise challenging backdrop. It shows that, despite relentlessly tough times, retailers are continuing to invest in people and support job creation as much as they can. But the record drop in store numbers is stark evidence that this investment should not be taken for granted. We’re by no means out of the woods yet – given the administrations of recent weeks, the next quarter’s figures are likely to make difficult reading. Half our sample intend to decrease staffing levels during the first quarter of this year and only 4% plan to increase them. This trend is to be expected at this time of year due to reductions in temporary seasonal staff, but the rate is higher compared with last year and further highlights testing times still to come.”

Dixons & John Lewis increase sales

Dixons have reported a 2% increase in group sales for the 12 weeks to 05 January 2013. UK & Ireland and like-for-like sales increased by 7% and 8% respectively for the same period.

John Lewis have reported an 18.7% increase in sales (including VAT) for the week to 12 January 2013. Fashion, Electricals & Home Technology and Home sales increased by 7.6%, 34.7% and 12.1% respectively. Sales at increased by 38.6%.

The high street challenge – and opportunity

Official data have confirmed that 2012 was a bleak Christmas for retailers. Seasonally-adjusted figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the amount spent on retail goods in December was 0.1% lower than in November and only 0.7% higher than December 2011. This was significantly less than the 2.7% inflation figure recorded by the consumer prices index. Online retail figures were more positive: ONS figures show that online transactions account for 10.6% of total shop sales. That’s up from 2.7% in January 2007.

However, it is too simplistic to conclude that the rise of online shopping means pain throughout the high street. According to Neil Saunders, MD of retail consultancy Conlumino, the retailers that are succeeding “are taking advantage of online, but they are really moving that into making the stores a success… or they are focusing on value and they are offering something that is really difficult to get online.” Christine Cross, chief retail and consumer adviser to PwC, says the companies that will be winners “need to adapt to all elements of the new normal: economic conditions; the need to stimulate customers to spend through innovation; convenience in channel to market; and service.”