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Business rates, Asian markets and customer service are all taxing issues

In the notoriously quiet month of August, the battle against business rates does not subside.

News that the government is set to pay out £4.2bn to companies that successfully appeal against their business rate bills between 2010 and 2015 will continue to encourage retailers to challenge the system. Although last month the government abandoned plans to make the appeal process tougher, it has long been demanded by retailers that the system should be completely overhauled.

With the last review taking place in 2010 based on figures from 2008, the effects of a multitude of factors, not least the recession, have impacted the fashion retail sector and if the government wants to supports businesses large and small, then rates surely must be reassessed sooner than after 2017, which is when they are next earmarked for review.

Something else keeping retailers busy this month is Asia. While expansion into this market has long been on the agenda, this week has seen another fashion retailer, Chester Barrie, get set to enter China by opening three stores, as well as etailer Fashion Union announce plans to launch on Chinese online marketplace This follows the news last week that Arcadia has signed a deal with Chinese etailer ShangPin to sell Topshop and Miss Selfridge clothing on the platform.

In what is unquestionably a challenging market, both to enter and conquer, etailer Tmall has historically been seen as the only way to go in China. Retailers’ decisions to partner with platforms such as ShangPin and Haixuan will surely have others weighing up their options and looking to follow suit. We will be looking more in depth into the challenges of China and understanding its consumer in our 12-page China report out on October 18, available on

However, retailers are not only looking to capture the Chinese consumer in their home nation but also back on UK soil. While numbers of Chinese shoppers in the UK have slowed, they are still the biggest-spending international shoppers here. British retailers must ensure their business and staff are poised and trained to understand this customer and make the most of this spend, as the turmoil in Russia and Thailand (see page 4) shows that these shoppers cannot be taken for granted.

Customer service is an essential part of this strategy. A survey from Vision Critical on behalf of customer engagement optimisation service Kana this week highlighted that younger customers (aged under 35) feel they are not taken seriously by retailers. While I don’t agree with the overall statement, the results were interesting, showing that nearly one third of UK customers had become less loyal to retailers in the past five years, with poor service the major reason.

The survey underlined that customers’ biggest bugbear is having to reiterate a complaint to different people within the same company, with one in 20 customers under 35 having to repeat their complaint at least five times. In comparison, 64% of customers over 65 said they did not have to repeat their
It strikes me that rather than being due to retailers not taking the under 35s seriously, it is more likely that this is due to the customer service process not being fully integrated across channels. This customer group is much more likely to complain over a cross-section of channels including social media, email and telephone than older people are. As retailers integrate their systems for a single customer/product view they must also consider doing the same for their customer service process to please all shoppers - whether they are from the East or West.
Eric Musgrave is away.



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