Clothes Shopping is Dying, Can We Re Start The Heart?

By Jeremy Blake on June 15, 2020

“Martha”, I ask my fourteen year old, “what are you most looking forward to when face to face restrictions are lifted?”

A long pause, then, “just seeing my friends and being back at school.”

“Hmm yes, and perhaps the cinema, cafes and clothes shopping?”

“Not the shops for clothes Dad.”

Do you think all the people who have been furloughed are looking forward to coming back to work, so they can see a customer and half-heartedly approach them with the words “Kelpu?” - meant to be said as “can I help you?”, but they’ve got so bored…

Anyone who has ever been on one of our training programmes will know that we have been on a mission with all businesses to change the way they start conversations.

It is the same mission Elmer Wheeler was on, when exploring why the ads he sold to retailers in his newspapers, to get people into stores, didn’t result in increasing sales.

In the mid 1930’s Elmer went to talk to Mr May of The May Company who took adverts in the newspaper.

Mr May was clear, “My ads in your newspaper may bring people in, but not enough of them buy!”

Elmer selected twenty reporters from his paper, the Baltimore News-Post and gave them each $5.00 to buy as many of the advertised dollar shirts as the $5 would purchase.

When they came back, fifteen hadn’t bought anything, informing Mr Wheeler that they hadn’t attempted to sell them one. The five who did buy shirts, bought only one each, explaining that the clerks, as they used to call them then, did not suggest a second, third or fourth shirt.

Elmer talked to Mr May explaining that the real control of his business was in the hands of his eight hundred salesgirls that the store employed at the time.

Mr May realised that the most the store was teaching them was how to put items on display, fill out checks properly, placing ads in the papers, and the most the newspaper was doing was bringing people in alive!

To summarise, “the sales were consummated by the salespeople – and what they say or do depends to a great degree just how much merchandise will be sold across the North American counters each day.”

What would happen today if this fan of Elmer’s got fifteen friends to buy various clothing whether they be blouses, trousers, suits or shorts?

What would the results be?

As far as the work my company Reality Training do, we haven’t worked with a major or an ambitious retailer for some years.

They invest in design, stores, anything but people’s conversational skills and management.

We have a growing nation of entrepreneurs, all three of my children have online stores, selling their own stuff in a peer to peer network because to them it is more exciting than going clothes shopping.

A few years ago we ran an initiative workshop for a major national clothes chain, which they loved. When we then presented how we could really help them pioneer click and collect and more, the key decision maker wasn’t ready to put the change in place.

Imagine if retailers moved to working with contractors. Self-employed people who approach the hirers with, “I want to help you grow your children’s-wear section as a real profit centre.”

I actually don’t think you need to change your products or your shops, you need to change your attitude to your employees and they in turn can have brilliant helpful, powerful conversations to help people choose clothes that make them look and feel confident, younger, whatever outcome they desire. Has anyone ever found out why and where you might be wearing the clothes you are trying on?!

The quickest win, which is also the only long-term win that will get revenue growing consistently, is creating and building relationships between your clothes salespeople and your customers.

Develop people to surprise, ask, inspire, motivate, inform, delight, challenge, persuade, amuse customers and more.

You may not get my three teens back in as quickly, but you’ll get many more decades out of others who would love their shops to provide valuable buying experiences.