Seismic shifts and changes of direction at Morrisons and Boots should be strongly resisted.
There have been two major retail stories in the press over the last few days, the first being the partial acquisition of Boots by US retail chemist giant Walgreens, while this morning comes the “shock” exit (in a year from now) of Morrisons’ FD Richard Pennycook. Both, strangely, have implications as far as store design and refurbishment is concerned.
At Boots, the question is whether the Walgreens tie-up will mean that elements of what happens in-store there will appear over here, or whether the process will be the other way round. Well consider the reality. Those who have visited a Walgreens store will no doubt be aware that this is a volume operation, in terms of the number of remedies stocked and whether it’s headaches or haemorrhoids, there will be endless numbers of proprietary pills, lotions and suchlike. Store design plays a pretty secondary roll as the rush to keep shelves filled continues. There is in fact nothing too startling about this - it’s a reasonably typical iteration of US retailing. The danger is that this ‘more is more’ line of thinking makes its way towards the UK as Boots becomes (at the very least) ‘part of the Walgreens’ family and in-store cost-savings, as far as environment is concerned, are affected.
This prospect is some way off and the good news is that Boots might actually prove some kind of design beacon for the merged entities that raises standards all round - possible, but unlikely.
And then there is Morrisons, which is midway through raising its in-store game and which thus far has ignored the Cassandra-like warnings of its former chief executive, Sir Ken Morrison about losing its core customers as it does so. Pennycook’s departure, as part of Dalton Philips’, the current chief executive, inner team may have the effect of allowing voices such as Sir Ken’s to be listened to more carefully and the store refurb programme could be in danger of stalling, just as it gathers momentum.
The two stories illustrate two entirely different directions of travel. In one case there is a danger that a mid-market proposition might be degraded somewhat, while in the other a retailer that aspires to take its customers up a notch or two, might be stymied. The point about both however is that at a time when store design is high on the agenda of most retailers as they endeavour to retain shoppers, even the most seemingly unrelated incidents can have far-reaching consequences. This is that rare instance where you might hope that the status quo can be maintained.