ATG Editor Ivan Macquisten reports on the experts’ advice to the trade at this year’s LAPADA conference
When LAPADA dealers get together for a bit of retail therapy
their focus is very much on selling rather than buying.
What is the best way to present your stock in your gallery or at
a fair? How do you convert browsers into buyers? How do you bridge
the culture gap between countries to ensure effective business
These were just some of the topics covered by the line-up of
experts booked to speak at this year's LAPADA Conference on
February 24 at the House of Lords in London.
It was another highly successful day, challenging delegates to
rethink their business strategies, and proved a fitting swansong
for retiring chief executive Sarah Percy-Davis, who has done so
much to raise the bar of these events in recent years.
Former Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose
was booked as the main act for the afternoon, but retail
psychologist Philip Graves, an alumnus of a
previous conference, paved the way with an insightful session on
human behaviour and how to capitalise on it in the shopping
He started by dividing shoppers into three types: the loyal fan,
the motivated goal-driven shopper and the casual browser, before
exploring what made people spend once they entered a store.
Research showed that it was more effective to ask people leaving
stores why they hadn't bought anything than to ask them on the way
in what it was they wanted to buy.
"Asking customers questions is a pretty futile way to find out
what they want. Study their behaviour instead," he advised.
"What matters is what people do, not what they say when you ask
Creating the right conditions in your gallery or on your stand
are essential to success.
Layout, decor, lighting and display should all create a sense of
expectation and surprise, as well as sparking curiosity. But
customers should also feel welcome and comfortable, so that they
spend more time browsing. Stands and gallery displays should also
You have to treat customers like ten year olds - they can be
impulsive, and get bored and tired easily. Make it easy for them
and they are more likely to buy.
Graves showed how techniques used by big brands, such as
renewing or rearranging window and aisle displays on a regular
basis, refreshed the public's interest. Too often, high street
antiques shops failed to do this, he said, leaving passers-by with
the impression of stasis.
"Price is a lever that is used too often by retailers," he
added. Instead it is important to create a sense of status
surrounding goods and services. And while everyone loves a bargain,
curiosity is as important as the desire to save.
"The best retailers deliver an experience where everything hangs
together," he said, before revealing that research by the bargain
clothing retailer TK Maxx showed that if you can get people to
spend 1% more time in a store, sales go up by 1.3%.
Intriguingly, he stressed the importance of storage cupboards.
They allow you to limit what is actually on display, creating an
air of exclusivity, while helping the dealer to control attention
and choice, while keeping stock well supplied on the premises or
Sir Stuart Rose took a broader approach to the
concept of retail, calling it "a place that is constantly
He agreed that understanding people's behaviour was key to
success, as is mastering technology and innovation, as well as
being prepared to take risks.
Despite concern over the cost of living, he argued that "prices
have never been so good in the high street and the quality has
never been so high".
Perhaps most reassuring of all was his view that we have passed
the tipping point of high street decline, with evidence of
rejuvenation seen in the growing number of coffee bars and artisan
shops illustrating the importance of town centres as places of
engagement at the heart of the community.
He illustrated the growing importance of technology by revealing
that at online supermarket Ocado, of which he is non-executive
chairman, 45% of all orders comes from mobile phones or
While adapting one's business to take advantage of the latest
technology was a key theme of his talk, even more so was the need
to adapt to the customer's demands rather than expecting them to
fit in with what you want to do. "The customer isn't king, he's the
master of the universe," he advised, a mantra he is famous for
And he also took a clear stand on pricing when it comes to
displaying art and antiques either in a gallery or on a stand at a
fair. If the customer cannot see clearly what the price is, they
will go elsewhere, he warned.
"I like to have a starting price to negotiate from," he
Nigel White of cross-cultural training firm
Canning focused on need-to-know tips for doing business in and with
BRIC countries and the Middle East.
One of his most interesting revelations was that while Chinese
buyers will bargain vigorously over less expensive items, they tend
to accept face value prices for pieces at the top end.
Overall, though, his key piece of advice was "make sure you
understand each other and don't make assumptions".
And he added:
• Everybody is an individual;
• There are all kinds of cultures; and
• Don't adjust too much.
"Culture awareness is a great navigational tool but be careful
not to rely on it too much," he said, before defining what culture
is and warning that it is not just defined geographically.
Symbols, behaviour, language, values, attitudes and assumptions
all contribute to the make-up of culture, explained White, before
laying bare a fascinating list of traits under the heading 'How are
the British seen by others?'
On the plus side, they are seen as polite, having a sense of
fair play and playing by the rules, well educated with good product
knowledge, displaying good manners and a sense of humour and
enjoying centuries of tradition. However, they are also seen as
often speaking too quickly and not clearly, struggling to accept
loss of Empire, insincere, unversed in other cultures, monolingual,
patronising, and binge-drinkers.
Understanding these perceptions is important in adjusting one's
behaviour and approach for success in business internationally.
A simple way of doing this is to use what White called Offshore
English. Avoid colloquialisms and confusing phrasal verbs, he
advised. Slow down, pause between phrases. Keep It Short and Simple
(KISS) and enunciate clearly.
Dr Clare McAndrew of Arts Economics, the
international art market analyst, conducted a fascinating session
on the latest global trends, unveiling a number of headline
statistics, such as the fact that 97% of all transactions are for
less than €50,000. However, the timing of the conference, a matter
of weeks before she publishes her latest TEFAF report at the
Maastricht fair, meant that most of her latest findings had to be
kept under wraps.
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