A friend of mine popped out to Lidl the other day to buy some milk and returned delighted with their purchase of a foot pump and a two-metre-long, inflatable pink flamingo.

If you make your way to its magical middle aisle in the next week or so, you’ll find a new fashion range designed by supermodel Heidi Klum.

Compulsive price disclosure will be in full effect, as your friends reveal that the new top you’re admiring was only…not very much at all.

Call them what you will, these Lidl surprises or random acts of retail have moved from being ATV-builders to footfall-drivers.

Aldi has similarly launched a range of candles that have created such demand that customers are queueing outside its stores long before they are even open. It’s one of the main reasons more and more people are shopping here.

There are lessons for all to be learnt from what they are doing, but to put them into practice we may have to reboot some of the departments in our businesses.

Sources of inspiration

For many years, delivering a consistent service and product offer was seen as being integral to brand perception and retail success. If a secret shopper visit revealed a few out-of-stocks, an off-piste visual merchandising display and a staff member dancing around the store, there would be much hand-wringing.

But life has changed and retail has turned 180 degrees. How we showcase the breadth and depth of our product offer and communicate to our customers what our brand is all about is just as important online as it is in our stores.

“Perhaps the VM display that doesn’t follow the guidelines works well in that store and better reflects the customers who shop there, to give a sense of individuality”

Being consistent across all of our channels is an opportunity, not a problem, for our physical stores.

Retail commentators have long bemoaned our uninspiring high streets, filled with identikit shops, selling the same garments as the one in the next town, just not in the size that you want (that’s only available online).

We’ve been told that there’s a trend towards independent retailers, offering a more personalised service and a unique range of products and that our customers want to buy local. So let’s embrace it.

“Maybe those customers love it that your store manager dances around the shop floor while they work; this may be one of the kinks you need to highlight, rather than iron out”

If one of your stores is out of stock of a certain product, give it an exclusive to sell, possibly one that you couldn’t buy in great quantities so it didn’t get national distribution.

Perhaps the VM display that doesn’t follow the guidelines works well in that store and better reflects the customers who shop there, to give a sense of individuality.

Maybe those customers love it that your store manager dances around the shop floor while they work; this may be one of the kinks you need to highlight, rather than iron out.

Something different

Imagine customers wanting to visit all your stores in a 50-mile radius because each of them offered something you couldn’t get anywhere else, and especially online.

So when people ask “why?” at your next internal meeting, perhaps you should just say “why not?”. That was certainly our attitude when we planned the relaunch of our Oxford Street store.

Our “why not” moment has seen us open the Tattoo Shop by Dan Gold (no relation), a rock star of the tattoo world, who has famously inked Kate Moss and Britney Spears, among many others.

Dan is a quite brilliant artist and shares our values about positive body image and loving the body you’re in. Our launch party saw our staff and customers alike being tattooed on the night.

This is a really exciting collaboration on so many levels and I love it that our store is now buzzing in more ways than one!

Jacqueline Gold

Jacqueline Gold is chief executive at Ann Summers