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The Three Essential Retail Rules

Three Retail Rules

Recently, we attended the ‘Meet the Retailer’ presentation at the annual National Association of Chain Drug Stores conference. It was incredibly inspiring to hear about the strategies these retailers were implementing. However, when we went to tour stores to see the strategies in action, we were deflated. What was wrong? Despite developing great strategies, they were not using the three essential retail rules: execute, execute, execute.

Rule #1: Good retail strategy execution is all about the details.

Consumers lead busy lives and if you want to stand out and be remembered, you need to differentiate from your competitors by making sure the details align with your brand essence and offering both inside and outside the store. Let’s look at Shoppers Drug Mart, a best in class Canadian drug chain that communicates these messages well. The three pillars of their business are beauty, health and convenience. The store is divided into three sections that clearly communicate this message. Consumers enter the store through the Beauty Boutique, a store within a store that is designed and merchandised according to its upscale positioning.

Throughout the store, displays and images reinforce the Shoppers Drug Mart’s brand values of health through the use of multi-cultural models engaged in a variety of activities and glowing with vitality. Finally, within the convenience section, the product mix is broad and filled with practical necessities for busy women, Shoppers’ primary customers. Their execution of details throughout the store clearly differentiates Shoppers Drug Mart from their competition.

Rule #2: Brand execution creates differentiation.

What does your brand stand for? Value, selection, luxury? If your associates are not executing the weekly strategies in-store, how is the message being communicated? It may be obvious to ensure that your store layout and design vividly communicates your brand vision and strategy, but there are few retailers who can execute this well. Many retailers invest in a broad range of marketing communication tools, from flyers to email and social media messages, to communicate their message to consumers.

However, the execution falls down in-store. Product is in the backroom still waiting to be moved to the retail floor. End caps, precious retail real estate, are empty or still filled with previous deals. Executing the brand message needs to be a priority and planned into the labour scheduling. Story, a small New York retailer, relies on their execution to sustain customer interest. Every 4 to 8 weeks, the entire store is completely transformed into a new theme. Planning for this transformation, from product to fixtures to labour, is critical. Without executing their branding, Story would lose its point of differentiation..

Rule #3: Sales associates are the brand ambassadors of execution.

Your employees are your brand ambassadors. Their behaviour is critical to your branding because they define the face-to-face customer experience. Smart retailers plan their customer experience strategy right down to the behaviours sales associates should exhibit and ways to incentivize them to encourage this behaviour. Execution encompasses how they greet customers, solve problems, navigate and maintain the look and feel of the store and ensure that the overall retail strategy is executed at store level.

Waitrose, a UK grocer, is known for their customer service. In 2014, Waitrose won the prestigious Which? Award as the best supermarket. Which? Awards celebrate businesses that “consistently get it right for consumers.” This was one in a list of several customer service awards the grocer has been awarded. Staff are described as polite and attentive. Their helpfulness and attention to customer needs make Waitrose a “joy to shop at.” This respect from many consumer organizations is earned by a commitment from top management down to provide direction, training and incentives to employees to ensure that the customer is always put first. This is reflected in their business results. While other UK grocers’ sales are struggling, Waitrose continues to see modest week over week gains thanks to the efforts of its brand ambassadors.

The bottom line is that to win at retail, you need to remember and focus on the three essential retail rules, and execute, execute, execute.


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