Editorial: Online's good, but remember face-to-face

By Annemarie Quill

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On my way to work today I popped into Repertoire's store on Devonport Rd where retail assistant Lesley and I had a good natter about everything from the Melbourne Cup to Lemon Detox diets (she remembered I had done one from the last time I spoke to her.)

Last weekend at Sisters in the Mount, my daughter was greeted with hugs from owner Rodelle who thrust a cupcake into her hand, and a glass of bubbles into mine.

When I get my coffee at The Terrace they call me by my name and prepare it without me asking.

Grindz puts aside my favourite honey slice for me in case it runs out before I get there.

Although the face of retailing may be changing, as James Fuller reports, it is not only technology that retailers have to embrace.

Rave on about your product on social media all you like, but if you forget the "social" part of this equation, you can forget your customer, too.

As Max Mason points out in James' report, the way that on-street retailers can still differentiate themselves from their online competitors is through good face-to-face service.

This is much more than smiling at you when you walk through the door and greeting each customer with that irritating, ubiquitous "How's your day going?"

Savvy retailers build friendships with customers which leads to loyalty. They also do not sit around waiting for the customer to walk in the door, but engage with the community.

One of the owners of Repertoire recently told me people often ask them how they are coping in a recession. She replies "What recession?", as they have a constant stream of activities, and recently expanded with a store in New Plymouth.

The secret? Getting out there. Next week, Repertoire is taking a "Fashion Bus" of its customers to a garden in Te Puna during the Garden and ArtFest.

While the clients have a picnic and bubbles, they will be shown the latest fashions.

Owner of Augustine, Kelly Coe, threw a charity fashion show to help the family of a boy she had never met. As well as raising money, the buying public got to see her latest styles.

Other retailers successfully combine their shops and online presence. Yesterday, I got a Facebook message from Sisters asking their customers what their craziest adventure on a towel was _ and in so doing promoted their new Karen Walker beach range.

Bay local Rachelle Duffy, who created The Little Big Markets, has combined the face-to-face experience of market day in the Mount, with an online presence for all her stall-holders.

As Max says, it's not about the death of the high street but a change in it.

As a lover of all things retail, I think the changes, though challenging, are positive for both the customer and the retailer, if retailers recognise how to adapt.

Max predicts there will be a day soon when every retail outlet in Devonport Rd gives out free coffee to its customers.

Mine's a flat white. Make it bubbles and we will probably buy more.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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