Thursday 18 January 2018

Problem Solver: Websites will never match the traditional retail experience

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Feargal Quinn

Q: I am a student and have been given the topic 'the future of retail shops is dead'. I can write either in favour or against the topic but I was hoping you could give me some ideas.

A: My view on this topic is very clear. There is a very solid future ahead for traditional independent retail shops, provided they keep the customer central to what they do and evolve their retail offers to meet the needs of the consumer. Online shopping has its advantages, but it also has disadvantages. The customer can't smell or taste or feel a product and they can't experience the expertise of a well-trained member of staff. These attributes allow the traditional retailer to provide something that can never be surpassed online.

We are seeing some interesting changes in the retail landscape. Even Amazon has opened its first bricks-and-mortar bookshop. I met a fashion retailer recently who told me they are seeing an increasing number of consumers returning to them as they have had bad experiences online. Sizes not fitting, colours and styles not appearing as shown in the photograph. Don't make an assumption that online retailing ticks all of the boxes. It also has significant disadvantages. Smart independent retailers can carve out a successful niche for themselves based on experiential retailing. No matter how hard the online guys try, they can't achieve this.

Q: I have a small farm with some livestock and also a holiday cottage on our land. I am looking for ideas to boost my earnings a little. Do you think I can make a living from this?

A: Aside from the business aspect for a moment, I am slightly jealous of you. To be able to live in rural Ireland and work the land even in a small way certainly must have benefits from a lifestyle perspective.

I do understand it must be hard to make a living, however, but I have met people over the years who have set up mini-enterprises on their farms. Each enterprise in its own right is small and would not support a family but, when you create several of these on one farm, it suddenly is enough revenue to support a family. You have given me some wider detail on your email and I see a number of potential opportunities. Let's start with the holiday cottage, which you say is only rented for the key eight weeks of the year. Look at ways of increasing awareness and consider using online booking sites, which people are using more and more to choose their holidays. You might have to pay commission but typically your bookings rise dramatically.

Start a database of people who stay with you and, in particular, text your Irish guests once or twice a year to invite them back, perhaps for a weekend break or some other themed occasion. You also mention you have hens and I would encourage you to increase your brood and start supplying local shops once you get your approval. This could become a steady source of revenue.

I would also recommend that you increase the amount of vegetables you grow and, when in season, visit your local farmers' market or set up a box scheme. Customers love to buy directly from a farm. If you had enough produce, you could even think about a farm shop, which might open one day per week.

You could supplement the products on your farmers' market stall with some baked goods or other goods from your kitchen, which could give you a nice weekly revenue. In summary, think about little enterprises you could create that, when combined, will allow you to live the lifestyle you have chosen. It will be hard work, and might seem a little off-putting at first, but the rewards of being able to live in harmony with nature will outstrip any challenges you may face.

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