The Fourth 'S' of Retailing

Author: Jaydeep Banerjee, Former CEO and Vice President of Gitanjali Gems and Jewellery.
Most retailers concern themselves excessively with the three ‘S’ of retailing; Stock, Staff and Service as they remain the cornerstone of a successful retail business. Volumes have been written, researched and documented on the big three therefore it needs no further explanation. The pertinent point however is that modern retail, in an evolving retail universe, with professional management styles and standardised offerings are able to match each other in these three aspects, therefore fast losing a competitive edge over the other. The constant need to reinvent themselves through markdowns and promotional offers erode the bottom-line, often eroding them permanently. 
The old business mantra of Product, Price, Place and Promotions has been long replaced with Solution, Access, Value and Education. The subliminal shift from the hard aspects (4Ps) of marketing to an emotional fulfilment (SAVE) has made it imperative that retailers consider the fourth S to succeed. 
Perhaps the most interesting and critical fourth S; “Storytelling” is often forgotten by retailers but never by the consumer. Consumer value systems are created upon stories. Their individual and collective psyches’ are made off tales of heroism, valour, friendship, determination, courage, love and fantasy. They relate to stories. They love a tale, narrated beautifully. They dutifully follow the tenets of a Bible, the preachings of Ramayana, and the drama of the Mahabharata and seek wisdom from these tales beautifully woven around their daily life. In their adult years these consumers continue to seek stories in their daily existence. Stories transport them and subconsciously they gravitate towards them. The story telling ability therefore becomes the key differentiator in grabbing a slice of the wallet and time of the consumer. It breaks the monotony of retail experience by creating aspirations in their daily life. The importance of storytelling in attracting and closing a sale cannot be over emphasised. 
Consumers are led into a sale by the power of a tale
Stories in retail are created by two sets of teams-The Training and Visual Merchandising. Unfortunately, both these departments are not given the importance they deserve. While trainers continue to reiterate the Operational procedures, without much effort or focus on the transfer of passion, the Visual Merchandising team remains infested with graphic designers who are able to create an artwork, again based on the operational needs, but sorely lack the marketing savviness; both teams lacking professionals who can genuinely ‘spin a yarn.’ 
Unless retailers create a differentiated story line through eye catching, breath grabbing visuals, installations and back up the perception with a team of highly charged and aspirational staff, they cannot overcome mediocrity. 
Investment opportunities in retail companies must be explored only with companies who are willing to make this key differentiator, the fourth S, a pertinent matter on their business plans. The three S will remain the cornerstone of decision making, however unless professional management of consumer aspirations is documented, monetized and budgeted, companies are headed for doom in the medium and long run. 

Retail, Retail Strategy