18 July 2024, 08:33
By Gordon Hecht Dec 08, 2023

A Florida Yankee in King Charles’ Court

It can be refreshing to hear a different take on the approaches we take for granted in UK retail – and there’s a good deal to be proud of, writes our US correspondent, business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry, Gordon Hecht …

Travel is always great, and vacation travel is even better. My everlovin’ bride and I made a 16-day journey across England in September. Our plan was to see the countryside with no visits to big cities. We stayed in true bed and breakfast homes with local residents. We ate and drank in the neighbourhood pubs. And we did it all while driving a rental car, which was a challenge in itself.

The US and the UK share more than a common language. Ever since resolving that dustup in 1776 our cultures have been interconnected. The BBC is littered with American programing like Friends, CSI and Modern Family. 

But, as much as we are similar, we got to experience some differences on our trip too …

Convenience pays

We drove on their motorways, similar to our interstate highways. Those roads were wide and smooth. About every 20 miles there is a service area – kind of like a rest stop, but even more. Each service area has a fuel station, but also a large food court with a choice of several restaurants, all at premium prices – everything from Starbucks to KFC, to a Chinese takeaway and midsize convenient stores – and large, clean restrooms.

Each place we stopped had a full parking lot, probably 200 cars or more. People took a needed break and got a bite to eat or a hot beverage. On average we spent 30 minutes at each stop.

It goes to show you – when you provide a clean, comfortable environment with lots of choices people, will stop to shop your business (and gladly pay a few pence more).

Speak English!

We Americans like to fancy up some common terms. The Brits are a bit more plain spoken. No restrooms or powder rooms in the UK. They call a toilet a toilet. No exit signs there, either, signs simply point to the ‘way out’. We call it an elevator, they call it a lift.

In our retail world we often use a four-bit word when a two-bit word will work as well. Like ‘initial investment instead of ‘down payment’, ‘white glove’ delivery instead of ‘we do everything for you’, or ‘value’ merchandise instead of ‘lower-price goods’. Sometimes, plainer is just plain better.

Service with a smile

We experienced a better level of service in England. Most restaurants and pubs expect patrons to book (reserve) a table before dining. At our first pub, we did not know that. Our host still found us a table and presented us with a business card and instructions to call his mobile phone anytime we needed a table.

Just as we were strangers in a strange land, your shoppers, also, are not experienced in the ways you do business – how payments are made, or how to prepare their home for delivery.Take the role of host and help walk them through the shopping, buying and acquisition process. And forgive them their sins.

Price transparency

In England, the price you see is the price you pay. Every marked price includes all taxes – no extra +5-9% added surprise at the register. My everlovin’ bride thought this was a brilliant idea. On the other hand, I like to see how much of my dough the government is getting.

When you quote a price to a shopper, it’s always a clever idea to give them the total amount. Merchandise, delivery, services, taxes, and any other extras. If they’re gonna pay $1273.50 for everything, let them know.

Your conversation should be similar to, “Your total is $1273.50 including tax, delivery, and the extended service plan.” Eliminate the surprise at the end, and you won’t lose the deal at the register.

England is a beautiful country. The people we met were warm and friendly, and treated us like neighbours. Those unlucky drivers who were behind me as I drove 35mph on a 50mph ‘A’ road were patient and forgiving. Many gave me the two-finger peace sign as they passed me.

As we share our two cultures, we all become better for the experience.

Gordon can be reached at [email protected].

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