Customer Service is at the Heart of High Street Survival
15th May 2013
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The closure of a number of high street stores alongside HMV going into administration, has caused many questions amongst the future for independent retailers. … so what is the future for the Lancaster & Morecambe high streets and what can we do to prevent the domination of online retailers?

Online stores have notoriously competed on price and the benefits of store collection and home delivery. The reality of the threat is becoming more and more apparent, as the number of chains facing administration in the past year rises.

There will always be online competition & HMV will certainly not be the last company to face major difficulties over the next year. However, what can the small independent retailers do, to prevent the similar decline of the chains?

It is increasingly important that retailers understand the importance of digital marketing/ sales. A number of  high street stores who announced increases in profits were Next (3.9%) and John Lewis (13% over Christmas). A major contributor to their success is that, they understand online and shop units are symbiotic, they function together to create synergy and the most profitable combination. However many small retailers might struggle to offer products through ecommerce as well, it is important to understand how digital marketing, social media and offline marketing methods can be used create links between the on and offline presence of these retail businesses.

The key factor to survival in these difficult times is Customer Service. Online retailers may be able to compete on price, but what they cannot compete on is personal, one to one service. Independent retailers have the proximity and drive to build up a personal rapport with customers, understand their needs and create customer loyalty. Nick Race (Woods of Morecambe) supports this stating that the key to high street success is, “Knowing all about the items you’re selling and top quality service with a smile”.

Take for example a customer requires a dress for an awards ceremony, the purchase is important to them and is potentially of high value. They may be able to save 10% by purchasing online, however they have no support or advice over which dress is most suitable or flattering.  Independent clothing retailers i.e. Room 12, have the ability to offer personal service and advice to their customers, whilst building relationships. They are getting a value added service by going to a store and reassurance that the product is right for them, rather than purchasing online. Jane Bateson (Room 12 – Lancaster) explained, “The key is to focus on a one to one service, which you can’t get online. With the ability to upsell products and give the customer that extra support. Creating a comforting not rushed environment and shopping experience.

Focusing on high levels of customer service and offering value added services to your customers. What extras can you offer your customers as an incentive to stay local to the high street? Can you offer advice and support on your products, ensuring the right item is purchased by the consumer?

There will always be customers whom are sensitive only to price and they will almost certainly continue to shop online. But there are still many.  Who would like the shopping experience and value added service offered by independent retailers and owner managed shops. By embracing both digital and traditional marketing methods, focussing on customer services and working together, Lancaster independent retailers can fight back.

Written by Sarah Cooper – Director of Black Zest Solutions

For advice and guidance on how to market your business contact Black Zest Solutions on 01524 510495 or visit . Black Zest Solutions is an award winning marketing and design consultancy based at InfoLab21 – Lancaster University. Marketing Strategy Lancaster

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