Smaller stores that carry the same offer as larger ones look set to become the way of the future.
A quart in a pint pot, or the same with less, goes some way towards describing what John Lewis is attempting to come to terms with in Exeter at the moment. This is the location of its “small full line department store” - due to welcome shoppers at some point in the autumn next year.
At close to 70,000 sq ft this is still a pretty sizable enterprise, but around half the size of a conventional “full line” store and certainly smaller than the forthcoming 150,000 sq ft behemoth that Birmingham’s shoppers will enjoy when it opens in 2014.
The question is how can you make a big thing smaller without compromise? The answer is, of course, you can’t. Tim Harrison, the man charged with attempting to do this at John Lewis says that it will be a matter of making better use of the perimeter, as this is a multi-floor store, having more “generic” shop equipment, that allows greater flexibility and playing the multichannel card more effectively.
The latter is perhaps the hardest one to improve upon and it will be interesting to see how the store finally appears, although Harrison says that while it may look different, it will still feel like a branch of John Lewis. It is however symptomatic of the way things are going in retailing at the moment that the big are showing a marked tendency to get smaller. Whether it’s the grocers moving into small format stores, or even House of Fraser which seems prepared to give up on merchandise altogether with its click and collect outposts, retailers are looking at sites that are becoming available in towns where the demographics might not support a full-size branch. The outcome is smaller formats and variations on existing themes look to be the way that things are heading as we come towards the end of 2011.
The advantages are manifest. Retailers can put a toe, or at least not much more than a foot, in the water and gauge the commercial temperature without feeling the full chill of an ill-judged decision based on a long lease. It’s almost a natural progression from the pop-up - a lower risk method of entering a market where the numbers might not normally stack up.
A modest prediction for the next two years is that the big will continue to operate on a smaller scale and that formats will change in consequence. High streets will change in consequence, maybe for the better.