Telltale signs of an ailing retailer

sickThe customer is the first respondent to the telltale signs of an ailing retail brand closely followed by the employee and way before leadership acknowledge there are issues.

So how do symptoms present themselves to the general public?

  • Across the board price increases in conjunction with a confusing shift in a discount strategy that is designed to hinder the customer’s perception of value.
  • A changed and incessant marketing campaign out of kilter with popular expectation and in contradiction with an established concept.
  • The appearance of incongruous products that have no bearing on the brand i.e. rice in a department store or toilet paper in a hardware store.
  • Sudden reduction or continual disappearance of long standing and respected employees leaving the loyal customer with a sense of alienation.
  • General decline in housekeeping and maintenance. On-trend does not just relate to product, but the ambience and environment too. Yes, the customer does notice.

Such indicators are conveyed to the workforce, which further heightens the angst and confirms suspicions that all is not well. This manifests itself in a number of ways.

  • Increased expectation and unexplained pressures from the leadership, with a shift toward blame and consequence rather than mutual understanding of core issues and resolution.
  • Heightened stress levels and unusual behavioral activity of line management and support personnel. The loss of key and influential team members distancing themselves from the degradation.
  • Erratic stock flows. The increase in volume of under performers by contrast to the token levels of fast moving key lines. Poor innovation and the lack of on-trend ranges.
  • An unhealthy focus on competitor activity and obvious belated copycat endeavor. Yes, workers are astute and well aware.

Out of touch leadership seemingly oblivious of the detrimental change of perception then either choose to ignore the issues in the hope it will rectify itself or to engage outside help.

  • Often preferring to follow outlandish schemes and silver-bullet recipes from detached crystal-ball experts. Chasing rainbows of cyber gratification and robotic mechanisation.
  • Failing to listen to the customer and understand their needs. Not via electronic surveys of a factored outcome.
  • Failing to take notice of their team’s feedback who, given the right tools, information and the chance to have an intricate part of the change and improvement.
  • Capitulating to the inevitable as a sign of the times rather than embracing change with the courage to eradicate anything and anyone who doesn’t add value.

Every retailer’s greatest asset is its people, be they customers or employees. Listen to what they are saying and listen even harder to what they aren’t saying.

Always remembering that retail is about people, for people, by the people.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on



  1. Evan posted on March 23, 2017

    These sound like the telltale signs of a salesman trying to drum up some business.

  2. Dave posted on March 23, 2017

    ......and you see a distinction between a sales person and retailers

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