Retail Needs A Longer Recession

Last Updated Aug 11, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

"The silver lining of a recession is that it clears out the weaker competitors of the high street." That's what the finance director of a well-known clothing retailer told me at the end of 2008. He planned to make sure his business is a survivor --and pick up his rivals' customers as a result.

Just as important, explained another retail FD (this time of a grocery chain), a recession puts real fear into staff. They know that unless they offer a great experience, what little money is being spent will go elsewhere -- and they'll be on the dole.

But based on the highly localised and unscientific evidence of a recent shopping trip, this second FD is going to be sorely disappointed.

Of course, retail is hurting in the UK. My stroll through Wimbledon's Centre Court shopping centre revealed a large number of vacant units.

Across the country, "the average retail vacancy rate has risen from four percent a year ago to almost 12 percent now," according to Local Data Company (LDC) stats published by the BBC. Its report warns: "About 12,000 independent shops and nearly 7,000 branches of major chains have closed so far this year in England and Wales."

So it was staggering that I ended up having three utterly hopeless retail experiences. Each one says something different about retail while this recession rumbles on. It's frankly unforgivable that, in each case, managers either don't know or can't change their customer service proposition.

(Pic Zabowski cc2.0)