From Brexit to business rates and the internet to independents, the challenges faced by retailers are well reported amongst the trade and national press. You only need to open up BBC News or scroll through twitter and you are faced with another tale of woe about how we – a so-called nation of shoppers – are not shopping enough.
Last weekend, it was announced that Jones Bootmaker, one of the oldest names on the British high street (see full story here) had been saved from following in the wake of BHS, Austin Reed and many others in heading to shop heaven…and not the good kind. This got me thinking, if a company as established and well-known as Jones Bootmaker can struggle to make it work, then who can?
Perhaps House of Fraser? The high street stalwart recently revealed it is positioning itself as a ‘disruptor’ by launching a new house brand and adding champagne bars and yoga studios to its shops. Other initiatives include cutting 30 to 40 of its womenswear brands and relaunching its website as it moves to refocus on its core consumer in a new five-year vision. The brand also aims to hold fewer, shorter promotions in an effort to wean shoppers off discounts and reduce stock levels.
Some critics have said the move is more about House of Fraser catching up, than actually pioneering the future face of the retail sector. Nevertheless, it is evidence the department store is recognising that, rather than grappling with the rising cost of imports following a slump in the value of the pound, an increase in the national living wage and the impending impact of new business rates, they need to chance and change quickly to overcome these current challenges. Instead of drawing in shoppers with big pink banners branded with massive reductions, they need to offer a heightened experience.
Numerous brands have been trying to do this for years, some with more success than others. I spotted two such examples of the former on the weekend when walking through the West End where hordes of people were queuing up to get in to the Lego and M&Ms World.
It seems incredible that two shops that essentially sell products you can buy in multiple stores the world over still manage to attract such impressive customer levels in their own stores from domestic and international shoppers alike. Indeed, when speaking to a Swedish client who was bringing her daughter to London for the first time, the itinerary for the trip included all our national landmarks (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and The Tower of London etc) shortly followed by, you guessed it… M&Ms World.
The fact the brand can justify a store the size of 100 double decker busses in one of the West End’s prime pitches must surely mean it is on to something. For Mars Retail Group, owner of the M&M brand, the store is more than just a shop. It is a billboard, an exhibition and an attraction in its own right. Yes, visitors may leave having parted with their hard-earned cash on some chocolate or on one of the many other branded products on offer is a welcome side effect – but selling is not the prime reasons for the shop’s existence.
The same goes for Lego, whose executive VP and Chief Commercial Officer Loren Shuster said on opening they want to “inspire and develop children across the globe through creative Lego play experiences… while getting a truly unique and immersive experience of the Lego brand”.
It is clear that retailers can no longer just set up shop to sell. They need to create memorable experiences that draw customers in to stores, and encourages them to come back. That is what Lego and M&Ms World do well, albeit both of their core businesses aren’t retail and they don’t have to bear the same burden as brands with large portfolios. However, there is clearly a method in their madness and one that is paying off.
More mainstream brands like Anthropology are also doing it well – think piles of beautiful china, well dressed mannequins and sumptuous window displays. We are also seeing more coffee shops in fashion stores (Brwd X French Connection) and fitness classes in sportswear shops (Lululemon’s yoga classes). However, not all retailers seem to be able to strike the right balance, though. If they did, perhaps we would not be seeing so many of these buyout stories in the press.
Thanks to turnaround firm Endless (…and a deal worth £10.5 million) stepping up, Jones – a company with 160-years of history in UK retail – will live to sell for another day. Faced with a number of wider economic challenges, it will be interesting to see what they do next; I am intrigued how you can make shoe shopping more immersive…
Perhaps they should look to the F&B market, which is worlds ahead of many of its retail occupier counterparts. Yes, by very nature catering brands have more to work with as you go out to eat for a sensory experience. Nevertheless, there is definitely lessons to be learnt that could inform retailers’ ‘enlivenment’ strategies going forward and make them better placed to deal with the challenges ahead.
To read more about the future of restaurants and eating out in London, have a look at Redwood’s news story on the recent TedX #FeedingTheCity talk here.