Baskets & Eggs: Prioritization in Retail

We’re spreading ourselves thin, a face that’s definitive of our lifestyles these days. We want to multitask constantly, we juggle jobs and duties, we have families and friends and full-time responsibilities—we try to do all the things, much to our detriment. The effect is that we don’t do anything well.

It’s a concept that’s applicable to retailers, too. In the old days, retailers did just that—retail. They carried the products their customers wanted, and they sold them with a smile. As retail expanded, niches formed: the cobbler sold shoes and the dressmaker sold dresses. 

Today, on the other hand, retailers try to do everything. Bicycle retailers don’t just sell bikes, they sell bikes and accessories and t-shirts and why not running shoes, too? Outdoor retailers epitomize this detrimental theme, overstocking shelves with everything from kayaks to camp gear, rifles to road bikes. With such a spectrum of inventory, it’s impossible for a sales associate to represent each product and brand well, or to sell it in a way that’s both educated and engaging. 

Not only have retailers expanded their inventory, they’ve ventured into new ventures. You don’t just shop in-store, you shop online and in-app; you don’t just try on shoes, you hop on a machine that measures your foot and your arch and recommends the best shoe and size with a computer. With so many distractions and offerings, it’s impossible for retailers to do the one thing they’re meant to do—retail—well. 

Hey, we get it; we too have struggled with the temptations of quantity over quality (see this month’s article). That’s why we’ve adopted a colloquial mantra, and we think you should, too: “Put all your eggs in one basket.”

Our employment of the phrase is a contradiction of its usual purpose, which is generally an admonition to not put your eggs in one basket, but to instead invest in multiple opportunities. With our usual spirit of dissension, we’re arguing otherwise. We’ve seen retailers, thousands of them, invest in more eggs and baskets than they can count, but it’s only created a divided environment where they do nothing well. So we’re advocating for a return to old-fashioned tenets and an era of retail when merchants had a single basket: to sell products they knew intimately, and to sell them well. 

It’s that last clause, “sell them well,” that makes our call to action so broadly applicable. If we were to ask most retailers to define their basket, they’d claim it was weaved from the canes of their specialty. Run shops would argue that the sport of running was their basket, bicycle retailers would same the same of cycling, and outdoor retailers, well, they’d probably choose some broad niche of hobby or sport, like camping or climbing. Here’s where we’ll challenge you again: in order to truly realize the potential of the retail industry and to reinvigorate it, retailers need to make the customer experience the basket—not the product, not the sport, but the experience of shopping. 

Consider the positive repercussions of prioritizing customer service. For one, it’s the kryptonite of mega brands and e-stores; in the war we’re waging as brick and mortar stores, customer experience is our greatest weapon. If we were to all concentrate our efforts on creating a great experience for every customer, every time, the entire industry would shift into a new era of success.

For another, you can have all the products in the world, but if you’re not able to sell them, you’re bound to fail. When retailers give product precedence, even if they happen to refine their selection (which, see above, is unlikely), they unwittingly place profits above passion, and signal to the customers where their loyalties lie (in their wallets, not in their wellbeing). It’s like when retailers choose to train on product specs instead of soft skills; sure, their employees know how to talk about their inventory, but if they don’t know how to actually talk, all that knowledge is for naught. 

So let’s make customer experience our communal basket. It’s the umbrella under which all other aspects of retail should fall. When you plan your inventory, consider what products you employees will want to stand behind rather than what will just sell well. When you start your visual merchandising, lay out your store with the customer in mind, giving them ample space to experience your products. And when you train your employees, don’t just fill their minds with stats and figures, help them see how to engage and interact with customers of all types and temperaments. 

Customer experience is a big basket, which means there’s plenty of room for all your eggs: product, technology, training, merchandising, employees, and everything in between. Let’s get to weaving. 

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