It’s become the all too cliched and well trodden story hasn’t it. The one about the plucky, honourable high street retailers being picked-off one by one, by a sniper sporting an Amazon T Shirt.
Well you know what, there’s nothing that an innovator or disrupter in any market likes more than slow, flat-footed, intransigent competition. In this case, those retailers who have spent too much time bemoaning the disappearance of the good old days, when even the most lack lustre of high street stores could expect their revolving doors to spin with customers six days a week, and very little time formulating a new vision for a new future driven by entirely new rules.
Sure, part of that answer has been to put their high street offer online. But if you want to stay in the bricks as well as clicks business, then you’d better figure out how best to profit from all that physical space you’re still occupying. Today, its almost as if many physical retailers have given up and resigned themselves to becoming little more than squatters occupying their own shops.
So what’s to be done?
Well as always there’s no easy answer and I don’t pretend to have some magic wand – purchased from a now defunct magic shop on an imaginary high street, that went out of business because of Amazon. There we go again! But what I do know is that what solutions there are, will be driven by imagination and creativity, and that these opportunities will only be realised by those not just prepared to ‘think outside the box’, but to blow the whole damn thing up. I have to admit that I’ve grown to hate that phrase, as its increasingly become all but hi-jacked by those with little imagination. To use as short-hand for; ‘let’s do something but lets not make it too risky’!
I believe that part of the answer lies in retailers fundamentally re-evaluating the parameters of the business that they’re in. And for many I’d suggest this re-evaluation embrace words such as experience and entertainment. Simply put, if I can buy anything from the comfort of my sofa, how are you going to convince me to get up off it?
To date, I would suggest that this call to arms has been most effectively addressed by the best of the mall owners than the individual retailers, Westfield London being a great example. I’d guess that more than 90% of what they sell is not essential for everyday life, and equally 90% of the people in there at any one time are not looking for that. In fact purely based on foot-fall, today it’s London’s most popular leisure and entertainment destination. Sure, people buy a hell of a lot of stuff there, but the majority look like they’re there, more than anything because its a very nice and indeed fun place to be. Whether listening to an unsigned band perform, or testing out the latest VR gaming experience.
But when I walk around the stores themselves, I see one thing that many have in common, ‘dead space’. It’s as if they believe that spacing out the products on display, will convince shoppers to buy more. No appears to be the simple answer.
But I’m pleased to report that there are glimmers of hope from those who clearly have a creative edge. Retailers and brands who have started to re-define how they use that space, to create one-off experiences only available in-store, and that shoppers can’t resist.
Wander down New York’s West Broadway and you’ll find a Levi’s store that will customise any pair of jeans that you buy, and do it while you wait. Take that Amazon Prime!
The Converse store in the same street will do the same with your baseball boots
Or Glossimar in the Bowery district of the same city, which has turned make-up retailing into an experience that Willy Wonka would be proud of. Now so popular that you can barely get into the place through hoards of frantic teens.
There is a Prada store with a centre stage, where regular shows featuring the latest collections are paraded in front of initially surprised but ultimately delighted shoppers.
An outdoor store in Londons’ Covent Garden now sports a climbing wall. Yes, yes I hear you say, we’ve seen that before. But an ICE climbing wall, designed for testing out the latest winter kit. I may not use it myself, but that store and brand are now clearly on my radar as memorable, imaginative, and an interesting and enjoyable place to shop.
The list could go on, but the point is made. Retailers who don’t open the doors to even the most radical and imaginative ideas, may risk having to close them for good.
So I’d like to hope for a future, where more shopkeepers put on a great show for us. It’s time for them to start pulling rabbits from hats, before we’re all confined to a future pulling our shopping out of (easy to open) Amazon boxes.