Retailers should collaborate with brands and designers to create unique product lines that consumers buy and buy in to.

It’s fair to say that retail’s in my blood.

My grandmother owned a shop and drove home the message in my formative years that “you are what you sell”.

This might seem straightforward advice but there was a risk that it would be lost, especially when I’ve spent my career in advertising – an industry that many criticise for forgetting the fact that growing a brand is about selling products too.

Commercial success demands having a product for people to buy and an idea for them to buy in to, and one of the most powerful ideas in industry today is collaboration.

Fashion partnerships

Fashion retailers have long been aware of this – H&M has been bringing high fashion to the high street since 2004, starting with Karl Lagerfeld and later embracing Versace, while Topshop’s tie-up with Kate Moss has become a feature of its success.

We’ve increasingly seen brands enter partnerships with entertainers.

Adidas has worked on a range of footwear with Pharrell Williams and the ubiquitous singer/producer is at it again with his ‘Bee Line’ collection with Timberland.

These collaborations can take many forms including unique products and content, special editions and events, and it does not always have to the big names and players.

But what is becoming increasingly consistent is the symbol that defines the collaboration – that symbol is x.

“Collaboration creates products to buy and an idea to buy in to”

Simon Hathaway, Cheil

X is a mathematical symbol that I grew up calling ‘times’. More powerful than +, it is the multiplier and when everything in retail is subject to pressure, there has to be value in multiplying the equity in partnerships. 

It’s a symbol that is becoming easily recognisable to shoppers.

It is a symbol that signifies something new and worth looking out for. It is a symbol that could become as important to retailers as ‘new’, ‘free’ or ‘sale’.

X enables a retailer to engage with shoppers, drive footfall and sales, while also strengthening relationships with their customers through equity borrowed from their collaborators.

It creates products to buy and an idea to buy in to.

With pressure building on retailers from all sides, collaborations with people and brands are a great way of creating the flexibility to build in special product lines that make use of a brand’s expertise and connections with an audience.

Best collaborations

The lessons are out there.

One of my favourites is the collaboration between Selfridges and Makerversity that involved the retailer bring unique items to its store, including ELK and Cassini Sound’s handmade products based upon original soundscapes synthesised from Nasa data, and personalised lollipops from Candy Mechanics.

There’s nothing to prevent other retailers doing similar: collaborating with small, local brands to offer quality niche products that have come from the community.

Clearly there are limits and I’m not advocating that Sainsbury’s stock a range of designer 3D printed drones.

But, back to the original point and my grandmother, collaboration can be a great way of redefining “we are what we sell” to connect with customers and drive new sales.

That’s why we should all be great believers in the power of x.

  • Simon Hathaway, president and global head of retail experience, Cheil