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23,000 UK retailers are ‘under significant financial stress’

UK-based services consultancy specialists Begbies Traynor has released figures showing that nearly 23,000 UK retailers were under significant financial stress at the end of the first quarter of this year, a rise of 4% compared to Q1 2016.

Rising costs, tax hikes and the continuing squeeze on consumer spending have all played a part, with a number of well known High Street retailers expected to fall into administration this year, according to the report.

John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots have already reduced staff numbers in a bid to survive the uncertain retail period ahead.

Historically, the new season would have triggered high street spending. Last year, Easter took place a few days in advance of payday, with UK retail footfall increasing by 1.2% in March year-on-year, breaking a six month decline.

Retail analyst Springboard predicts that the warmer weather forecast this year should see a 5.4% increase to UK retail footfall and 8.8% footfall increase to UK high streets.

However, the increase in footfall is unlikely to create the lift that UK retail needs as shoppers eschew spending on fashion, instead concentrating on day-to-day items such as food and beverages.

Certainly, credit insurance firms already suspicious of retailers who they feel might not make it through this retail period will be making decisions over the coming months that may see a number leading high street businesses enter administration.

Forum Insight: Customer engagement methods to maintain strong relationships…

Now more than ever, customer communication methods are becoming varied and diverse. Trade exhibitions, social media platforms, focus groups and surveys, personalised email campaigns – the list is endless. But which methods will prove to be the most effective for your business? Before investing too much time and effort into just one, think carefully about all available options, and ask your customers how they prefer to be contacted…

Keep track of emails: Make it your personal – and even company – goal to respond to all customer emails within a five minute time frame. Not only will it generate appreciative responses, people love fast and efficient customer service, and this level of service will lead to an abundance of recommendations and increased trade. Need more convincing? View Eptica’s ‘Email Management’ article here.

Be active on social media: By now you’re probably tired of the constant emphasis on regular social media use, but inevitably, one of the best ways to connect with customers is through social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The good thing about social media is there is no time schedule to follow – you can reach customers at any time of the day. Use your company’s Facebook fan page or Twitter account to engage your followers and keep conversations flowing. Nowadays, social media has been incorporated as a form of customer service, so make your platforms adaptable for staff members to handle customer questions and complaints. Read through Conversocial’s case studies for influential insight.

Answer the phone: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! No matter what industry, a significant focus seems to be on new customer channel developments. But whatever happened to the traditional phone conversation? Whether you’re following up, apologising for something that went amiss, or wondering why you haven’t received an order in a while, there’s no better way to strengthen a customer relationship. According to eConsultancy, customers prefer assistance over the phone (61 per cent), followed by email (60 per cent); Live Chat (57 per cent); online knowledge base (51 per cent) and “click-to-call” support automation, (34 per cent).

Start a weekly blog: Why not create a weekly blog to keep your customers up-to-date? If you actively keep up a quality blog, not only will your customers read your blog, but they will respond to your blog. This creates a positive flow of communication and helps build customer loyalty. Find inspiration from these companies that have made blogging a ‘top priority’.

Conduct market research: Surveys allow businesses to identify customer needs. Once acknowledged, companies can steer their offerings towards filling these needs. Surveys are also a good tool to bring in prospective customers who are on the fence about a product/service, i.e. surveys can be used as a platform for prospective customers to voice their needs. Confused about whether to conduct quantitative or qualitative research? Learn more about the differences here.