The other day I updated the shop’s facebook site to highlight the toy company Melissa and Doug and it got me thinking about the differences between company philosophies. In a way we’re lucky to have a mixture of different perspectives on how business should be done from the companies that make the products we all buy, but the company philosophy that most people seem to loathe yet the one which gets the most money is the ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ philosophy. Or at least it used to be. Recently I’ve been noticing a change in people’s attitudes (at least towards toys).
We’ve always been proud of the fact that customers come into our shop and seem genuinely excited to find a ‘proper toy shop’ or an ‘old fashioned toy shop’ but in reality a lot of the time these customers will buy the products we stock that receive TV advertising or at least feature TV or movie characters (viz. very often not the ‘traditional’ wooden toys). I can’t blame them, I do exactly the same thing, my son Logan watches his fair share of TV and as a result a lot of his toys are branded characters that most parents would recognise (ice age, ben 10 etc.).
The interesting thing is that people seem more discerning now about how they spend their money, perhaps the financial crisis has changed attitudes from looking for the cheapest to looking for the most value. Now when parents come into the shop I notice more of a tendency for them to describe our pocket money section as ‘junk’ or ‘nonsense’ and insist that their child consider a ‘decent’ toy. Personally I think there are plenty of ‘decent’ toys to be found in a well stocked pocket money section (see my post on pocket money toys from a while back for my views on how great ‘pocket money’ toys can be) but I don’t think that’s the point. What they seem to be saying is that rather than buying four or five things at about a pound each the child should buy one item at five pounds, and I assume this is because they want a toy that will last and not simply a selection of toys that will turn into pile of clutter for the bottom of the toy box.
Parents also seem to be persuading their children to hold back in order to save money (or at least consider it for a while) for a more expensive toy. Overall I think this is part of a new culture of people who are sick of being let down by a deal that seems too good to be true. A few years ago I bought my dad a personal video player, it was an MP4 player similar to an ipod but it was about a quarter of the price (but still pretty expensive, a few of us clubbed together to pay for it), surprise surprise I think it lasted about 2 months and when it did break I got no help from the ebay store I’d bought it from or from the company website of the manufacturer. I think everyone must have a similar story to this that makes them feel less savvy, less intelligent and more gullible. No one likes feeling like that and I think this is what is spurring this new attitude, we don’t want to be duped and when something looks too good to be true it often is, so we learn from these humbling budget purchases and decide not to let it happen again.
In short, the internet has opened our eyes to just how devious manufacturers and retailers can be (and still be operating legally). The flip side of this is that the internet has also made retailers and manufacturers responsible in an entirely different manner, the police might not be able to do anything but every single customer can leave a mark. If you slip up even once you can see a very significant drop in sales thanks to the resulting customer review. The prevailing idea now is that when you buy online you can count on customer ratings to steer you right and this attitude is starting to spread. We’re more careful about spending our money until we hear more about the product or service and as a result we’re all helping each other to become far more savvy shoppers.
Something that shops now have to think about is that the customer doesn’t have to be in their store. Even in the most remote locations, if the post man can get to your door you can buy online. A lot of retailers don’t seem to have noticed this and despite providing good services/products at good prices they’re losing out. The key element in a tangible (not virtual/web) shop is that your staff have to know their stuff and if possible (and in some ways more importantly) the staff or at least the shop should be entertaining.
The experience a customer has in your shop will dictate whether they’ll bother to come back or if they’ll opt for an online alternative (and guaranteed there will be an online alternative). I suppose the point of this blog entry has been a call for street shops to make an effort, it’s all very well asking people to ‘shop local’ but there’s also a responsibility on us to make it worth their while. We can ask a customer to shop local but they in turn are perfectly in their rights to ask ‘why?’