International stores versus independent retailers

This year has certainly been one of reflection and, for many retailers, a challenging time. In Portugal, the international stores, in particular, are focusing on turning stock around, whilst the independent retailers focuses on survival. This will include sales in both cases, but what are the differences between these stores and why the different strategies.

When you enter a large international store, whichever one you choose, you are greeted by a lot of big point of sale displays focusing on savings. Enter an independent retailer, like Linen-etc, and you are met by a person welcoming you into the store, who can greet you in a variety of languages and is trained to offer advice if required.

Many of the international retailers focus on buying products, that have the best value, in vast bulk, from anywhere in the world, and then sharing it across many stores throughout many countries. Independents often focus on buying on a country level and, in the product mix, include international products purely to ensure choice and the ability to be competitive in pricing. However, there are independent businesses that have to buy the products they sell internationally by the container to get the value demanded by most shoppers today.

“I know from my personal experience that people are supporting the independent retailers here in the Algarve, and they are finding great-value products and a range that they were not aware of before”, tells us Karen Carfrae, owner of Linen-etc.

As a shopper, the assumption is that the international retailer will be cheaper, but this is not always the case. When it comes to house goods, past the spin of the packaging, if you look for similar products, fabrics and sizes, you’ll find that often the international retailers’ products are made slightly smaller – a settee not so profound or long, a sheet not so deep, washable at 40ºC only and no tumble dry, for instance. Consider returns and guarantees too, as their dates really count – many of the international returns for fabric products, for example, are five to fifteen days. And don’t forget to check the cleaning/washing instructions of bedding or clothes, as it will tell you a lot about the quality of the products.

Yes, international retailers will have the opportunity to go for a loss leader strategy – where they sell a product for no profit – which independents may not be able to do. And yes, there is a time when people will choose to buy low-cost, knowing it will only last a short period of time. So there is always a place for the big international stores.

Quality, value and a guarantee that counts are what independent retailers offer. The local companies who invest in trained advisors and who speak your language, you will save you time and money because you will leave with the right product in the right size, with a guarantee, not having to rush back with returns.

When it comes to staying safe or controlling customers for COVID-19 purposes, it’s easier in the independent stores too – you will not be bumping into other customers who are busy focusing on the big signs, and trying to find a staff member to help, rather than keeping the distance.

An independent retailer cannot overpromise and under-deliver, because the guarantees are not five or fifteen days. Local businesses live by the quality of the products and services they provide. So the next time you need to go shopping, consider the difference and make a sound decision.

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