As retailers we talk a lot about delivering consistency. Consistency of everything. From product, price and shop fits, to marketing campaigns and customer service. We build a prototype, test all the elements until they’re right and then roll it out. We invest a huge amount in making sure our offer is exactly the same, across maybe 100 locations in the UK and possibly internationally. However, innovative retailers are changing this ‘one size fits all’ narrative. Partly in response to a backlash from consumers against bland uniformity. Partly as a strategy to capture and strengthen customer loyalty. Here we  discuss how retailers can ‘act local’ to grow their business and move with the times.

Mass Market Mentality vs Act Local

The mass market mentality won’t work anymore and I can understand why. Retailers operate in many different and diverse communities. While you can have a core business that stays the same, the life and soul has to be about the local community.

Retailers need to think long and hard about what works for each local area. That means re-examining everything from the look and feel of their stores, to the product mix and service.

We’re all different, so we should create brand environments with different elements for the customer to enjoy in each particular store.

As well as efficiency, today’s shoppers also want a more personal service. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t very engaging. To get their attention – and their business – you need to acknowledge the uniqueness of the community. And then tailor your service with relevent offers and recommendations accordingly.

There is a tendency to think that this level of differentiation can only work with independent shops. However, there are examples of large multiples tapping into their local community to create a tailored offering. In fact, I think they need to do this if they are to stand the test of time and appeal to new generations of customers.

Costa Coffee

One example is Costa Coffee, who host evening classes in their cafes. They adapt their classes to suit the local population. So, for example, in cosmopolitan Putney they run Italian classes and in a trendy North London neighbourhood there’s a history of fashion course. Whereas, in Milton Keynes – one of the fastest growing urban areas in the UK – they run business start-up sessions.


If we think back 30 years, we had a company like McDonald’s with a very consistent brand identity, product offering and service. But fast forward to now and even they have adapted to local tastes and traditions. The global fast food business wouldn’t survive if they stuck to a one-size-fits-all approach. So, we see burgers in pitta bread in Greece, smaller sizes in weight-conscious France and some distinctly quirky menus in novelty-loving Japan.

How Can a National Brand be a Good Local Citizen?

Small businesses often become involved in community events. However, there’s no reason multiples can’t do the same and demonstrate that they have a stake in the local area.

In my view, the best way to tap into local knowledge and trends is by keeping in close contact with your store managers and their teams. They are the ones who will know about new local businesses and events.

It’s also essential that your staff are well-trained and motivated. Shoppers often turn to independent retailers because they have a reputation for being experts that can make product recommendations. You’ve probably got savvy individuals in your own teams that could do this. But you need to empower them to come up with ideas and trust them to make local decisions.

I’d love to hear your ideas on this topic, leave a comment below or drop me a line.

Stephen Balmer-Walters

Author Stephen Balmer-Walters

An experienced international retail omni channel director with a wealth of knowledge. A strong leader able to communicate and negotiate at all levels.

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