The picture above is of my friend’s shop ‘The White Label Clothing Company’
@WLCManchester a great independent in the Northern Quarter and opposite the iconic Affleck’s Palace. Both a landmark and a bastion for originality and ‘doin it ya self’
Sadly the shop is no more. It closed 12 months ago. To me at least there was nothing quite like it in Manchester. Quirky prints on tees, hoodies, jumpers and canvases. My silk screened Kylie Tee, light blue on white, will always be a guilty pleasure worn under a black suite with crisp white nikes. But then, that’s me and times change.
Around that time other more recognised stores started to have problems and we lost the retailer Game. Since then we’ve had well documented issues from the likes of Jessops and of course HMV.
Has the retail environment changed so drastically over the past 5 years that we are
now seeing the demise of the high street? I think the issue lies in the fact that a physical entity occupies a space that is fast becoming an online experience. It’s estimated that by 2014 they’ll be 1 Billion global smartphone users. We’re fast becoming a mobile economy be it i phone, android or tablet.
Shopping in Britain is a cultural pastime. It’s synonymous with an interactive physical experience. Leaving the house, taking transport to a city or town where you participate in walking a high street or shopping centre with friends, browsing the brands you aspire to and then maybe after a spot of lunch make that all important purchase to be worn at a forthcoming social occasion. It’s human behavior that will never change; we as consumers have in built needs to be admired, wooed and wanted. We like the attention from the assistant (but not too much) and we demand the service that goes along with the buying experience. When we have that item in the bag and leave the shop its like a massive endorphin rush until its time to buy something else.
Digital has come along and interrupted that.
So where are we now 12 months on? How far has that digital interruption stretched and are we still shopping in disrupted times?
You’d have to say yes. I believe the premise of ‘disruption’ is that of change. A paradigm shift to an existing tradition or mindset of which shopping is a way of life. Make no mistake the internet has been the single biggest disruption to our everyday lifes in the last, what, 20 years?
That ‘shift’ has seen more consumers consuming via digital channels. Mobile is fast becoming our choice of destination; more of us prefer online stores to our bricks and mortar counterparts. Customers state they feel more valued (great UX) and with removal of obstacles to purchase (better designed online environments) time spent online is both effective and efficient. You get what you need when you need it.
It’s been well documented that The Portas Review http://bit.ly/16fvTox failed to join the ofline and online dots. Whether that’s through bad advice, ill communication or just a lack of vision? Even Google’s ZMOT http://www.zeromomentoftruth.com/ highlighted a growing behavioural change which some major retailers are still struggling to adapt.
With all this advance of technology where does your traditional high street shop fit in with a new consumer shopping psyche?
I have only opinions. I’m sadly no retail savvy analyst that can predict what lies in wait for the second coming of the high street and whether that will be the positive experience we all want for our much loved brands. What I do know is you cannot escape the changing identity of it, be it closed shops, cheap shops or ones that pop up. We’ve got preachers, singers and freestylers all vying for your attention set against a back drop of 2-4-1 and 25% off. It’s very very noisy, very very crowded and very anarchic. Its like shopping in a riot. Not that I’ve done that before and nor would I want to.
On a recent visit to London I made a point of visiting BoxPark in Islington to see one of Manchester’s adopted sons @alanwardle open the very first @anyforty retail offering. What’s interesting about these spaces is the fact they’ve taken the best of the bits of the high street and condensed them into mini bite sized touch points with out the screaming kids, prams and push chairs. We’ve gone back to basics and done what we do best. Giving the customer what they want. Uncluttered distilled sales messages that don’t shout and focus on key elements of place, product and price . Intimate brand touch points that have very personalised stories to tell and memorable relationships to build with their customers.
Financially they are very attractive to their brand owners because of the low risk short term lease options. It’s also a damn good idea as ideas go. A shop in a box perhaps doesn’t seem the most ground breaking but when you put them all together, one next to each other you’ve got a wonderful collection of brands that will always cater for any type of shopper. Those that prefer one brand will automatically come in to contact with one they haven’t necessarily heard of but are keen to explore. What’s also great is that technology is enabling them to keep the cost down. Many of the owners are utilising the applications that allow mobile card payments through mobile and tablet devices. Cash is still very much accepted of course.
It brings life back to parts of towns and cities that had been looking down and disheveled. A community of brands and shop owners that are thinking around the problem and creating a solution that is very much an identity all it’s own making. And you know how much I like identity.
Looking around, most of the brands on offer already had an online presence but from what I can see these sorts of experiments give them a very personal connection to their audiences. Having stepped into the box they control what they can and can’t see and if that’s limited they can connect straight away with the brand owner, i.e. Alan.
There’s a great charm to them and they ooze brand personality and in today’s crowded marketplace, brands that use this to communicate their values well shout louder over the noise.
I’m not saying they are the future because technology is changing how we shop but I’d hate to see our High Street disappear and I think there’s a lot to be gained from a pop up methodology. Adopt, adapt and accentuate the positive. Perhaps even Mary might visit.