The time when all of our high streets looked the same may be at an end, but there are still some die-hards.

The time when all of our high streets looked the same may be at an end, but there are still some die-hards.

“The principle of different stores in different locations has the potential to add variety and diversity to our high streets.”

John Ryan, stores editor

Cast your mind back and one of the claims that used to be levelled against retail chains in this country is that increasingly they were responsible for “clone Britain”. The accusation was that every high street everywhere looked more or less the same and that that which made our towns and cities distinct had been eroded.

Perhaps this was true back then but increasingly retailers are looking at how stores can be a response to location, rather than just part of a mass rollout. Examples abound. Australian body unguent retailer Aesop has been multiplying the number of outlets that it operates in this country at a rate of knots, yet there is no sense of boredom when you see one of its shops.

This is principally because all of its branches are different, yet they are all the same. And if this sounds an oxymoron, it is, but it’s an achievable one. In Aesop’s case, it’s the rows of dark brown bottles that give the game away. These are the retailer’s signature and shoppers know where they are when they spot these as no other form of packaging is used. Yet externally and internally, Aesop as been at pains to employ different materials and designs to differentiate one branch from another.

And if this sounds a little esoteric, the trait is not confined to niche retailers. A relocated Currys PC World store opened in Canary Wharf on Friday which looks for all the world like an airport store, the idea being that it is for cash-rich, time-poor shoppers. Head roughly twenty miles east of here and you’ll be in Thurrock where there is a Currys PC World on a truly gargantuan scale. A fair portion of the first floor at this branch has just been turned into a cookshop that seemingly also happens to sell white goods. This is also a response to the local shopper and is completely different from Canary Wharf.

The principle of differently sized stores in different locations looking, well, very different, holds good for many retailers and it has the potential to add variety and diversity to our high streets. There are, of course, exceptions and mobile phone shops may not be as ubiquitous as they once were, but there are still a lot of them about and they really do look like rollouts. Creating diversity involves more than putting the name of the location where the retailer has taken a unit above the door, although even this is a start.