High Streets Initiative 18 July 2017

Every offline retailer should know these five things about their business

Customers should be given various online opportunities to share their information
Customers should be given various online opportunities to share their information

As a small offline retailer, could you be working smarter to ensure your business is a success? Here, co-founder of The Good Till Co, Oliver Rowbory, gives business owners five tips to make sure they are.

Starting or running a shop is tough. You don’t have to look very hard to find commentary bemoaning everyone now does their Christmas shopping online or even how the giants of retail are slowly squeezing smaller competitors out of business. You would have to be crazy to even try, right?

Well actually, no. The retail landscape may have changed dramatically over the last decade, but there are still thousands of small and medium-sized independent offline retailers across the UK who are successfully carving out their own lucrative niches.

You may be working hard to be one of those success stories. But how do you know if you’re just working hard, or actually working smart? Here are the things you should know about your business to make it is the latter.

What your customers really want

For many independent retailers, the whole business is built on the owner’s ideas and tastes, and their instinct for what will sell. They probably spend all day, every day inside the shop, watching customers to see how they behave and how they react to what is on offer, so of course they know exactly what their customers want, right?

Perhaps, but what is interesting is that many smaller retailers rely so much on instinct and anecdotal evidence that they completely miss important trends within their business.

It is only by recording and analysing your sales data objectively that you will be able spot opportunities – what sells at certain times of day or year, what products are frequently sold together or what takes up valuable shelf space for weeks at a time.

Who your customers actually are

As an offline retailer, you probably recognise many of your best customers. You maybe even know them personally. But how much do you know about what they like, where they go or what they do outside of your shop?

One of the big advantages online retailers have is that customers expect their contact details to be collected, so the store can start building an ongoing relationship with each individual. In fact, studies have showed that customers are willing to share all kinds of data and preferences as long as it results in a better experience for them.

The world of the online and offline retailer can no longer be viewed in isolation, so why not take your relationship with your offline customers online? Offer them a reason to share their contact details (perhaps an e-receipt to save paper, or access to special offers) and you can start building a relationship across more touch points, understanding them better and catching the attention of their friends.

When cash flow will bite you

Cash flow is one of the major killers of small independent retailers. Rent and rates, combined with payment terms of suppliers can be crippling, so it is important to think ahead to avoid walking into a crisis.

Technology can be your best friend when it comes to understanding cash flow trends within your business. Whether you do your own books or work with an accountant, it is now so easy to integrate financial data from the till system you use every day with your accountancy software that there really is no excuse not to know your numbers at any given time.

In fact, the integration of accountancy software with your point-of-sale system is so proven to increase efficiencies that HMRC VAT inspectors are even now recommending it.

What value your people really add

In today’s increasingly anonymous digital world, genuine human interaction is scarcer than ever before. This only makes a human connection more valuable, giving an offline retailer a strong competitive advantage over online competitors. The key is making sure your staff are able to add that human, emotional connection with customers that computers still cannot.

Managing staff can be one of the challenges that takes new retailers by surprise, as it involves not only coordinating resources, but also managing personalities and dynamics.

Technology and data can be hugely beneficial when it comes to staff management, separating the facts from any emotion so you can make more informed decisions. You can look at whether you’re getting the ratio of staff to activity correct at different times, how staff are working, who your best salesperson is, your sales versus wage cost or even spotting opportunities to develop staff.

What information you really need to know now

The common theme that underpins all of the above is data. The pace of development in the digital world means that more data has been collected in the past 18 months than in the rest of human history combined. Consequently, there is a temptation that “big data” really does have to be big, but in fact, quantity is less important than quality.

With so much data available for even the smallest businesses, it can be possible to drown in data. Every business is unique, so take a step back and assess what information would be of most value to you.

Map out the data points that will help bring out that information in a form that you can use quickly and easily – your data, and therefore your business, is changing all the time so you need to work in real time.

Oliver Rowbory is co-founder of The Good Till Co, a cloud-based POS system that gives independent retailers, bars and cafes access to powerful data intelligence.


Catch up with more content from the Business Advice High Streets Initiative

This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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