Retail Week 2018 didn’t just provide a welcome escape from whichever incarnation of the ‘Beast from the East’ was hitting home (Leeds was being besieged by snow again while I was spending two sunny days by the Thames), it was a fascinating insight into the thoughts, ideas, and strategies of some of Britain’s biggest retailers at what is an interesting, if not somewhat troubling, time for British retail.
The British high street seems to find itself in a watershed moment; with big name casualties such as Toys R Us and Maplin, retailers are trying to work out how to incorporate the rise of online into the traditional bricks and mortar model – or whether to even incorporate it at all.
What most people agree is that the stores we walk into today will most likely be very different in the near future – if it still exists at all, it will be with a heightened customer experience, more interactive touch points, incorporating the online offering, and providing much more than just the single purchase transaction relationship.
So what, exactly, does this mean, and what will it look like? Here are the three main trends and discussion points from Retail Week 2018, and how they’ll shape retail;
1) The bricks and mortar model isn’t dead
The current retail landscape was succinctly summed up by John Rogers, the CEO of Argos, when he said; “It’s never been easier to buy, so why are stores struggling?”
I was surprised to learn that, after Amazon and eBay, Argos are the UK’s third most visited retail website. In addition, they were the first UK site to hit £1bn of mobile sales and also £1bn in app sales. 48% of sales were purely digital in 2016, and this is expected to grow to 59% in 2018. And yet, despite all this online activity, Rogers hailed Argos’ store infrastructure as paramount to their success.
Argos are using their physical store network to provide ultra-convenient options for customers. As well as the traditional click and collect, their stock efficient store network and incorporation with Sainsburys means they remain close to their customers, and can offer a 4hr fast-track delivery service to 90% of UK households. Rogers was keen to point out that they ensured that their stores were close to their customers.
So for Argos, their physical stores are the backbone of their success. While their stock efficient model can’t be directly replicated by other retailers, the fact that 72% of their online orders are still collected in store means that even though the purchase may start online, customers still need that convenient, physical touchpoint.
2) Your brand is everything
So, if customers are still needing the physical store, how can retailers enhance the experience for when these customers enter, and keep them coming back?
The most interesting answer to this was offered by Shamil Thakrar, co-founder of Dishoom, who offer customers a Bombay Café-style experience across one Edinburgh and five London sites. This growth has been relatively slow compared to most others, at a rate of almost one a year, but this has been deliberate.
Thakrar has refused to simplify or scale the service, and instead let each individual site have its own identity, look, feel, and story. For each new site Thakrar wrote a story about the characters that founded each one. For their Kings Cross restaurant, for example, he imagined an old Iranian in Bombay being late for a train, and spending more time than he had originally anticipated waiting around in the old train station, and then being inspired by its architecture to open a restaurant styled like it.
It’s this level of detail that has set Dishoom apart from anything else, and that offers customers a unique dining experience. Those photos on the wall aren’t just meaningless decoration; each is tied to the restaurant’s story, which is all fully explained in the restaurant’s 50-page design guide. This guide is personified by the members of staff with in each restaurant, who maintain the immersion through passion and knowledge.
The Dishoom model is proving that, if a retail space is well thought out, well designed, and offers customers a new, unique, authentic, and truly immersive experience that they can’t get anywhere else, then people will come, with 40,000 customers served every week. Dishoom’s success can literally be seen by their long lines, with customers prepared to join long queues for their dining experience.
3) The individual store will be more important than ever
With a strong brand established across the estate, there will then likely be an increase in trust given to individual stores to express and interpret these brand values to their local community and customer demographics.
Marc Dench, CFO of premium lifestyle brand Joules, spoke of a store manager led approach to their stores. Understanding the challenges stores were facing following reduced footfall and higher operating costs, the brand realised the retail environment needed to change to draw customers in.
Above all it needed to be an enticing shopping experience. Dench was keen to play down the ‘experiential’ buzz that he believes only works for some brands, and instead stated a focus on meaningful experiences that add real value, delivered through;
Location – being as close to the customers as possible (see point 1)
Reason – giving the customers a real reason to walk in, whether to pick up a product or through enticing POS/displays
Sales Experience – it needs to be better than online
Interaction – use each and every interaction as the starting point of a lasting relationship
While Dishoom’s restaurants are vastly different from each other, they are still all linked by strong brand purpose and values, and this is key to Joules’ success according to Dench. The brand shouldn’t be diluted, and be consistent across the board, but individual stores given licence to express these and incorporate them into every staff interaction.
Read recent news headlines and you’d be forgiven for thinking the British high street has seen better days, but for those within the industry, it’s an exciting time of re-thinking existing models and changing the offering. The real winners here are the customers, who are going to see their high street shopping experiences change for the better.
Brands are examining how to make better use of their physical assets and making the right first impression is now more important than ever. At KVH Studios we have been designing bespoke store services for decades, using sight and sound to provide customers with positive and lasting brand experiences. Drop us a line today to see how we can ensure your brand is heard in this changing retail landscape.
Joe Muddiman – Account Manager