There is a cruel joke about the Specialty Merchandise area at QVM - "There is plenty of variety here - you go up one aisle and see T-shirts, hoodies and sports shoes, but go up the next and you'll see sports shoes, hoodies and T-shirts." Much has been done to introduce new traders into our market, and the joke is not as relevant as it used to be, but work is still needed.
There was an interesting conversation with two of our "repetition Traders" this week and there appears to be general agreement on the basics. We are talking about two different competing issues here. One is the public perception that we have too much repetition and that is serious criticism that we must address. The other is that some repetition is being driven by consumer demand and that is serious business that we cannot ignore.
The serious criticism is well documented. Marketing surveys and social media are full of complaints that every aisle in the top end looks the same. That doesn't make a lot of sense to traders who can see the important differences between similar ranges and besides many of us change locations every trading day - how can our market look the same? The bottom line is that public perception shows sameness. Businesses spend millions of dollars measuring customer views just so they can adjust to public perception. We need to listen to our customers as well.
And there are some areas of repetition that are being corrected. Our much maligned ladies fashion retailers have been accused of selling the same items of clothing. We are told there is one major supplier for most of our ladies fashion traders. They are faced with extreme competition from the likes of Zara, and H&M who refresh their fashion every few weeks. Even the largest clothing retailers in the world are battling to compete with that sort of flexibility. Sadly, at QVM natural attrition is having an impact as ladies fashion sellers dominate our list of departing traders. Handbags are another category that has seen natural attrition.
But what about demand driven repetition? The most obvious example is Australian souvenirs. Few outside observers, including local customers, can understand why we need so many souvenir traders. It seems clear that all our souvenir traders are doing well and that is based on casual observation of crowds around souvenir stalls as well as candid comments from some of the traders concerned. That is all good business that we shouldn't jeopardise just because of ill-informed perceptions.
Of course some of the repeaters don't help themselves. They have set up their operations in the same way in each of their outlets, presumably because uniformity attracts cost savings both in fittings and staffing. But what if they were to clearly differentiate their offers by product grouping, merchandising and/or general concept? And that doesn't just mean adding one or two different ranges to their display. We are talking about a completely different interpretation of their offer. Maybe some innovation is their best protection against being labelled a "repeater" while still maintaining multiple outlets.