Professor Heiner Evanschitzky, Co-Director of Aston Centre for Retail Insights based at Aston Business School, said: “Toys R Us has been hit by a cocktail of circumstances such as dropping consumer confidence, devaluation of the pound, the living wage, debt problems from the private equity owner, and an increase in online competition in the toy market.
“This all led to reduced consumer spending and increased competition – for instance, VISA reported that consumer spending declined for the first time in five years in January.
“A key problem for Toys R Us was a lack of clear focus: is it a big box discount store for toys, a store with a vast assortment of toys, a leader in quality and service? They missed an opportunity to reposition themselves as an inspirational place to shop at. Consumers rightly asked why they should bother going there instead of buying online.”
The expert has previously criticised retailers for failing to provide retailers with an inspirational shopping experience; the only way they can hope to compete with online stores, he has argued.
He added: “Our research shows that 78% of Brits opt for online shopping rather than going to the High Street or department stores to buy gifts. This is because they find shopping stressful and only a minority find the experience of actually visiting a shop inspiring.
“Traditional retailers are attempting to compete with the rise of online shopping platforms on price – and are missing a trick in the process. What they need to focus on is something that online providers cannot easily replicate: an inspirational shopping experience. People browsing in stores should be met with an environment that is entertaining and informative, with a focus on showcasing products in unexpected combinations or contexts. Our research shows this can improve customer satisfaction and lead to an increase in sales per customer.”
There are a number of strategies retailers can adopt to inspire the customer and combat declining footfall, according to Professor Evanschitzky.
“There are two key factors that come into play when you try to inspire customers. First, retailers must improve their store design, and display products by use rather than by category. Second, they should ensure sales staff spend their time interacting with customers, inspiring and advising them – not focusing on re-stocking shelves, which can be done when there are few or no customers in the store.
“Online is an important distribution channel and traditional retailers must embrace it. But it is vital they also invest in improving their stores and equipping staff to help make shopping an enjoyable experience. For instance, they can use digital technology like QR codes to make it easier for customers to purchase a product they interacted with in-store whenever and wherever is most convenient.
“There is still an important role for the physical store to play, and we can already see online retailers such as Amazon approaching this from the other side. By moving offline and creating a physical presence, they are acknowledging that physical interaction with customers is a golden opportunity to inspire them and ensure they find the right products.”
Notes to the editor
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About Professor Heiner Evanschitzky
Heiner is Professor and Chair of Marketing at Aston Business School. Over the years Heiner has had over 100 articles published in specialist journals and proceedings, notably in the field's leading Journal of Marketing, Journal of Retailing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Product Innovation Management, and Journal of Service Research. His research has won several Best Paper Awards at leading Marketing conferences.
Heiner is Associate Editor of the British Journal of Management. He is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Business Research and Industrial Marketing Management and is founding-editor of the book series Applied Marketing Science.
About Aston University
Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston has been a leading university for graduate employment success for over 25 years and our students do extremely well in securing top jobs and careers. Our strong relationships with industry partners mean we understand the needs of employers, which is why we are also ranked in the top 20 for graduate employability.
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