ON the retail revolution
Over 8000 stores in the US closed in 2018. In the UK 4400 stores closed in the first half of 2018. In 2019 more closings are being announced. Oh, by the way, Barney’s, NY just went bankrupt.
We have always had that specialized store with novelties and unique products geared towards a more elite target. Now, with the internet, everything is up for grabs. Things you could previously find only in a special publication can now be read about all over the world. The segments and classes are still there but the elite behavior has contaminated the high street crowd. What the high-class stores did before is now attracting the high street people and you can see a change in the stores that used to be selective where they’re starting to find new ways to compete and stir up interest.
Companies like H&M, Zara, IKEA and Uniqlo, to mention a few, are more like logistic wonders than fashion and design companies. They’re much more concentrated on the speed between the production line and the store shelves than on future fashion and design expression. They are fighting with prices, which forces them to look for cheap production and the goal to be more accessible to the consumer takes on a bigger role.
People are beginning to feel more like hostages of these big retailers, so they are looking for more distant alternatives, where shopping becomes more hidden or at least less obvious. Something else that is totally out is being judged as a consumer. Sweatshop products are also out as well as low cost production. Buy and throw is as bad as it can get, and people really want to find alternative ways to consume. Technical innovations that management often hides behind will not solve this problem. Neither will a young sales force or a ping pong table in the store. People don’t fall for platitudes. They want the real thing. They look for what is unique, the origin of the product, who made it and where and how. They also expect the salespeople to be well read and know the story behind each piece. Some storekeepers set up co-ops where regular customers become members or partners with an influence on the collections. A universal truth is that you are perceived by whom you associate with. I will try to explain it in shorter points below.
The paradigm changes
The internet arrived and decided to stay. It offered a new way to see the world. News became instant and that which was far away became a laptop away. Information about other countries became accessible and the environment became “everyone’s” issue. Climate change, immigrants and other threats reached all of us.
The tactile encounter with the product
Some stores will vanish because of the internet and others will flourish because of it. What takes a life can also give a life. The new physical store can only survive with the help of the net. It will need the net to be able to communicate with and inform its target. It will also need it to monitor the world for new and unique pieces.
The essential insight
No, it wasn’t internet shopping that closed the physical store. It was the information that became available thanks to the internet that over time created a new consumer. This, in combination with the collapse of the relationship between the retail world and the consumer.
The curated hand
Today, nothing in the market is unique. The only thing that can express the ambition and personality of a store is the mix of product that is being offered. The mix shows that someone has put a lot of thought into not only finding certain pieces but also combining them to make something interesting. The most important variables in the mix are community, culture, leisure, ethical, experimental, authentic and local.
From a greedy storekeeper to a nerdy curator
To tell a good story you need to be engaged and committed. To be that you need to be a nerd with an undisputed interest in what you plan to offer.
No more lifestyle, no way of living rules
From being commercially directed in the store, the consumer is now looking for clusters of equals who share a view regarding how and where to live life. The winner will be the store that communicates a feeling of inspiration and that gives the shopper a feeling of belonging to a circle of friends.
Belonging is a deeper value
Today, a person wants to feel proud to share an interest in something without feeling the must of buying. To simply stroll around in the right place among the right people is more than enough. To look for inspiration, acknowledgement and telling that story to others is what is important.
From selling something to presenting an environment
The days of telling people what they must buy are over. The relationships with clients today are based more on a cooperation in which the assortment is affected by the clients as well as the store- keeper. Success will be achieved when the store can listen and surprise at the same time.
From transactional to relational
Now the interaction with people that visit your store is of utmost importance. Seeing the person, making contact and establishing a common ground from where the interaction becomes natural. Seeking advice is as important as providing the latest news. Generosity becomes key.
It is the unique mix of objects that expresses your special knowledge
It is only the mix of objects that can give the impression of the curating hand. No choice of brands can replace that feeling. The curated hand gives the customer a sense of interest, quality and love for what is offered. It also shows that there is knowledge and credibility behind the mix.
From drop-in to destination markets
The high street store depends in the masses of drop-in customers for its survival. The rents reflect the amount of exposure that an address can generate. The destination market on the side street will finds its niche together with other destinations and attract fewer but more qualitative visitors. When the side street becomes more attractive the rents unfortunately go up and the various markets and stores will move to another area.
From generalist to nerdish
Selling the old way by offering a wide range of changeable products creates a general and generic impression. By finding unique combinations some of the generic products can actually become special and valued thereafter. So what and how it’s paired together is as important as the actual objects. Long live the nerd
Seek help from brand and store mirrors.
Instead of looking for the most frequently walked streets the future markets will look for environments where the added value of the neighboring stores boosts the interest in the impression. The same effect can be applied to the store window or the assortment of each store.
From high street to side street or clusters
The side street is often a more positioning address for a destination store than high street is. By choosing a side street you express that you are something out of the ordinary. Soon other special destinations will follow, and this will create a new and special high street or a certain category of people.
So, educate yourself, your sales people, your landlord and your customers
You have to do something special and people have to understand what you are doing and what that entails for your collaborators. Being special can sometimes mean developing a new market. That takes time and must be met with understanding.
Do not be afraid of being silent
With the introduction of the web came the necessity of being active. That is why doing the complete opposite, being inactive, can be a winning formula. Better to talk when you have something to say than talking for the sake of talking.
So, retailers, stop blaming the internet. The only difference is that everything is faster and up for scrutiny. You just have to work harder at being interesting, knowledgeable and listening to your clients. Retailers with an ambition will always be a place worth visiting and learning from.