You can’t have any debate on retail today without considering the effects of the Internet. But one thing that’s becoming clearer with each year that passes is that traditional retail, is still thriving where it has the right approach. This flies in the face of all the scaremongering and proclamations that online retailing would signal its demise. But when you think of it, traditional retail’s continued success is actually common sense and follows one of the most basic rules of marketing – having a point of difference.
Bricks-and-mortar retail can’t compete with the Internet on price. But nor can being sat alone on a computer compete with ‘doing stuff’ together. You can’t have a meaningful conversation with the kids while enjoying a pizza, then treat them to the latest Disney blockbuster, in between shopping on a laptop. Or find out who Rachel’s left Dave for and show your friend the shoes you’ve just bought, while sipping on a coffee you can’t pronounce. But you can at most successful retail destinations.
The ‘experience’ realisation is nothing new. Garden centres have almost all become restaurants too over the last decade, for example. And then there’s Ikea – which my seven-year-old asks to go to at least once a month. Not because she has a hankering to pick and assemble a shelving unit. But because it’s fun. She can play and run around, then eat meatballs and ice cream. And each time we go, we buy.
What is new, however, is the rise of retail destinations that actually position themselves as experiences. The recently opened Resorts World Birmingham is a good example. It offers eighteen bars and restaurants, an eleven-screen cinema, a twenty-four-hour casino and a spa and boutique hotel to complement its fifty outlet stores. So customers are going there to ‘make a day of it’ (and even a night of it). It’s not just somewhere to shop. It’s somewhere to ‘do stuff’ with other people. But while they’re there, guess what? They’ll shop.
And retailers don’t just benefit from the presence of food, drink and entertainment. They have another advantage over their online counterparts. They benefit from the presence of other retailers. People shopping online tend to buy what they want or need and nothing more. I don’t have to pass Boots to go to Argos online.
The future of retail, like everything, will depend on its ability to adapt and play to its strengths. People will travel to shop. They’ll even pay more for something they can buy cheaper online when they get there. But increasingly, only if there’s more to shopping than shopping.
Craig Wood is creative director at RBH.