Experience key to survival

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Consumption Retailing

'The pub experience has no real competition', says Rob Willock
'The pub experience has no real competition', says Rob Willock
I’d rather be running a pub than a shoe shop right now. And that’s not just because the idea of handling people’s feet all day turns my stomach.

Not a week goes by without news of another high-street retailer getting into financial difficulties. After just one month of 2012, Peacocks, La Senza, Past Times and Blacks Leisure have all either gone into administration or been bought out of pre-pack.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers are suffering on two fronts. Consumer confidence is low, and thus discretionary consumer spending (that delivered so much economic growth throughout the noughties) is depressed.

And both generalist and specialist online retailers are taking market share from those traditional shop brands that have big overheads and failed to get their internet offer right.

Then there’s the phenomenon of ‘showrooming’ — whereby shoppers use the high street to browse for products, touch and feel them, enquire about their features and benefits of the shop staff… and then go online to do a price comparison, and buy from the cheapest source.

Smartphones even allow people to buy from a store’s competitor while on their premises. And yes, people are even doing this with shoes! But why is this relevant to pubs?

It matters for two reasons, both of which suggest that reports about the demise of pubs are premature. Firstly, it suggests that customer experience remains hugely important.

People still want to go out, even if their instincts tell them to go easy on the spending. Pubs and fast-food outlets that offer good value and cheap treats are doing well.

Mitchells & Butlers, Marston’s and Fuller’s have all reported strong sales growth in recent weeks (see p16); while Subway, McDonald’s, Starbucks et al are planning hundreds of new openings and thousands of new jobs.

Secondly, while pubs face competition from off-trade drinking and home entertainment, they don’t face the same like-for-like online threat that other retailers must cope with.

You can’t replicate the experience of a pub by visiting it, checking out the atmosphere, browsing the food and drink offer and then logging on to your iPhone to have a pint and a great night out delivered to your home.

There are no online pubs yet. Second Life (remember that?) tried and failed to persuade us that a virtual reality was more fun than our actual existences.

Facebook, while described as a social network, seems to be a distinctly unsocial medium to those people who like to meet, share with and talk to their ‘friends’.

In a pub, you can really LOL and make a proper smiley face rather than just typing them on to a screen.At a time when other real-world retailers are experiencing the hardest of times, pubs may actually be coming into their own.

Enjoy it and take advantage of it while it lasts. Take a critical look at your service offering, and challenge yourself to ensure that you are meeting the consumer demand for a high-quality, but good-value experience.

And thank your lucky stars you’re not going out the back to fetch a pair of size nines.

Related topics Legislation

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