Amazon may appear to be an unstoppable retail juggernaut steamrollering everything in its path, but there are some stores it still cannot touch because of their unique propositions.

To coincide with this year’s Prime Day promotional extravaganza, Retail Week takes a look at some retail offerings that look well placed to withstand the Amazon onslaught.

Sweaty Betty

Athleisure specialist Sweaty Betty’s experiential retail in the form of free in-store fitness classes creates a sense of community and boosts trade. The programme is designed to support the ‘tribe’ mentality Sweaty Betty ascribes to its customers. Founder Tamara Hill-Norton believes unlike other types of clothing, athleisure fans are happy to wear the same item of apparel as each other because they enjoy feeling part of a team.

Sweaty Betty

The sense of camaraderie is reinforced by hosting of in-store fitness classes. A variety of classes are available at each location including yoga, barre, pilates and run clubs.

Other Sweaty Betty initiatives include Wellness Wednesday, featuring talks from speakers such as the Hemsley sisters and fitness author Max Lowery. The success of the strategy is reflected in the retailer’s sales and profit growth. The most recently available figures showed that Sweaty Betty increased turnover by 20.6% to £8.2m in the year to December 31, 2017, while profits rose 160% to £1.3m.

Nordstrom Local

Upmarket US department store Nordstrom’s overall business may be under some pressure, but it appears to have struck on a service-led store concept that looks Amazon-proof.

The Nordstrom Local format does not actually have any inventory in-store – but is much more than a glorified click-and-collect point. It potentially offers an answer to department stores’ efforts to compete with the endless aisle of ecommerce.

Visitors to the atelier-like Nordstrom Local stores can take advantage of various services including a tailor, manicurist, bartender and stylist. Local customers are offered a speedy online delivery service called Get It Fast, which gives them a real-time view of inventory that can be delivered no later than the next day.

The store was first piloted in Beverly Hills and after a successful trial has been rolled out to other LA locations including Brentwood and Downtown, and two stores are due to launch in Manhattan in September.

Nordstrom local

WHSmith Travel

Much is made of Amazon’s ultra-convenient offering, but one area where even Amazon cannot compete on convenience is in the travel destinations WHSmith has cornered. There are approximately 1,000 WHSmith Travel outlets, including almost 400 internationally, many of which are open 24/7. The Travel branches, in airports, railways, bus stations, hospitals, motorway services, universities and workplaces, are the driving force of the WHSmith business.

WHSmith says they are a “world away” from its high street business because they are “all about speed” and serving customers as quickly as possible to allow them to get on with their busy lives. The WHSmith Travel shops are proving more and more profitable each year, but some have occasionally been controversial. The hospital stores, for instance, have been accused of ripping off the families of patients.

Nevertheless, WHSmith Travel has proved that sometimes retail is all about cornering the right location. WHSmith continues to build its travel operations, notably with the acquisition in 2018 of InMotion, the biggest airport-based digital accessories retailer in North America.

WHSmith Gatwick South Books

JD Sports

Amazon may offer a jaw-dropping range of products on its platform, but that does not mean retailers in the same categories need to give up hope.

Specialist retailers with good supplier relationships can strike exclusive deals with leading brand owners to retain and enhance their appeal.

JD Sports, Tru Rating

JD Sports is a case in point, and its brand relationships have been an important contributor to its stellar profits and sales. JD Sports chief financial officer Neil Greenhalgh attributes its robust performance to “respecting the differentiated and often exclusive nature of the product assortment by avoiding unnecessary short-term reactive discounting”.

Its product strategy is supported by a commitment to in-store experience. JD Sports believes great stores are fundamental to its ability to showcase product because of the “theatre” offered to customers.

Nike

Nike has tapped into the roots of the local community as a way of creating resonance and driving its retail operation forward. 

The sportswear giant has developed a ‘community store’ format centred around embedding itself into the neighbourhood. All Nike’s community stores run local hiring initiatives designed to recruit at least 80% of employees from within a five-mile radius of the store. Staff are also encouraged to volunteer their time to local charities and are provided with grants to help them fund local organisations.

All the Local stores have design elements that aim to reflect the neighbourhood’s heritage. For instance, the Brooklyn store launched with imagery shot by local photographer Anthony Blasko and photos of store staff from New York. Brooklyn-specific products are also available at the shop, alongside gear from local sports teams.

Nike Brooklyn 2

Timpson

Timpson has flourished through a focus on service and services that means it is just as relevant in the age of ecommerce as it ever was.

Founded in 1865, in recent years it has diversified beyond its traditional business of shoe repairs and key cutting with investment in dry cleaning and mobile phone repairs.

James Timpson, the retailer’s chief executive, credits its success to a culture of “upside-down management”. At Retail Week Live, he said: “The most important colleagues in our business are the people who serve customers and put money in the till.”

One of the fastest growing parts of the business – watch repairs – came about because one colleague, a former watch repairer, began fixing watches in stores without telling management and rang sales up as cut keys.

Timpson Chester