Is it really possible for stores to do more, with less?

Last week, fast fashion goliath H&M announced it is to close 250 stores worldwide—the latest in what has felt like a tsunami of store closures in recent months.

Looking in from the outside this continuing news stream does not help consumer confidence and creates the perception that the ‘High Street’ as we have come to know it, has reached the end of the line. But I fundamentally disagree.

To believe this, is to lazily take at first glance only the headline grabbing, almost click bait news. Why, because there is balance to every story that surfaces. You may have to look deeper, and that may not be the narrative people want to push, but there are always reasons for hope and positivity. As an example, here in the UK, thousands of new retail jobs have been announced.

Isn’t that the way it’s always been?

Yes, the escalating retreat from the high street has undeniably been compounded by the destructive Covid crisis. But as painful as it all feels right now, in truth it represents a necessary rebalancing by retailers, rather than a straight high street mass extinction event.


Shopper behaviour continues to evolve, as it always has done. In response, retail businesses must achieve a more targeted mix of physical and ecommerce channels, while also adjusting their exposure to operating in high cost, high streets and shopping malls.

Of the store closures announced, some clearly include poorly run legacy brands, concepts that had run their course, or others that lacked the best location, relevance, services or quality that consumers rightly expect today. However, others will be straight ‘slide rule’ decisions based on future costs and delivering the most profitable return. But, isn’t that the way it’s always been?

…it’s essential to avoid distractions

Retail is, and always will be, both fluid and dynamic. Those working in the industry, and especially at senior level, know this. There has always been a natural ‘ebb and flow’ of brands rising up, as well as those who succumb to being simply a footnote in retail’s history. What’s different now is the pace of change—and how rapidly what was once certain, can quickly be disrupted, and then turn to distress.

As retailers struggle to keep up with the pace of change, it’s essential to avoid distractions. Every retail leader should be striving to maximise both simplicity and the effectiveness of their store operations.

This requires great agility and clear decision-making where it matters most, at the sharp end in-store. Removing unnecessary complexity will create a clearer sense of brand purpose, improve retail execution and increase store performance. Through greater simplicity and improved productivity, profits and confidence can be regained. Without it, the ability to build and progress future retail strategy, or even to exist, are put at dire risk.

…focusing attention on things that really matter

Now is the time to focus on achieving the highest levels of operational competence to make the difference. Excellence in retail execution, elevated to the same level, or above, that of creative prowess. Retailers that execute daily store tasks easily, quickly and efficiently will reap bigger rewards. Brands that manage retail delivery with consistency will benefit with from better commercial performance. Put simply: success means focusing attention on things that really matter, and doing these exceptionally well.

For some, especially those working on the shop floor, the pace of change and continual demand for greater performance can be overwhelming. As retailers seek to reduce their store based costs, and to do more with less, what’s billed as simplification, often means removing roles and giving fewer people more work to do.

At Visual Thinking, we have a proud record of working with global retailers to help store teams optimise in-store productivity and performance.

While in recent years, retailers have invested heavily in ‘big tech’ to develop their online presence and ecommerce infrastructure, increasingly the focus of technology is moving to develop innovative, easy to use, effective digital tools and retail apps that enable store teams to optimise store performance and give retail leadership increased visibility and greater control to equip their retail businesses for even greater success. Technology to ‘sweat the small stuff’ too.

…outstanding performance in every store, every day

Creating digital tools to improve essential store and team communications; reducing the time it takes for store teams to complete routine in-store tasks; developing team capability; and ensuring in-store priorities are focused and actionable. The integration of such tools within retail operations also provides detailed reporting, real-time store and robust data analytics to inform future decision-making, helping retailers to quickly adapt policies and store execution, for outstanding performance in every store, every day.

Retail has never been an industry that rewards those who prefer to spend time (or money) looking at the world through ‘rose tinted glasses’, or a sense of misplaced sentimentality. It is bold, decisive and courageous action that takes brands forward—combining the best of excellent retail craft and in-store delivery with leading edge of new world thinking to optimise trading results.

Reading the seemingly endless negative headlines can deflate even the strongest of spirits. But history has shown that those who continue to evolve and seek out better ways of working—making their retail operations leaner, smarter, more productive and, ultimately, more ‘attractive for shoppers’—will always win out.

That surely is the ‘true and only’ certainty. And as such, something we should remember, remain focused on, and use in a proactive energised way, at a time when many other things seem outside of our control. Take good care of today, and tomorrow will take care of itself.

By Karl McKeever

The best results. Together

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