Mini Habitats are just part of a phenomenon in retail that is an inevitable consequence of multi-channel. But technology is central to making them convincing for shoppers.
The announcement that Habitat is trialling mini-stores, with the first opening in Leeds this week, to sit alongside its in-Sainsbury’s implants, brings into focus two things: the trend towards putting multiple fascias under a single roof, and the more general move towards smaller shops.
The half-pint-sized Habitat in the Sainsbury’s Nine Elms ‘store of the future’ in south London (which also houses a mini Argos) is an instance of the first and there is much precedent for what is being done.
Arcadia has long had multiple fascias in a single building, while the Dixons ‘three-in-one’ formula that yokes together Carphone Warehouse, Currys and PC World is what happens when a group grows and grows.
At some point, it becomes obvious that deploying big spaces as homes for multiple fascias is about creating destinations; places that shoppers go to because all their requirements from a particular sector can be met in one ‘store’.
It’s almost a shopping centre in a single unit.
“One of the effects of everything being available all of the time via the web is that shops have to become smaller, and so the multi-fascia strategy seems a solid compromise”
Whether this is an elegant solution is by the by, what matters is being effective in the ‘race to fill space’. It also means that big-space retailers can offer more reasons for shoppers to keep visiting their stores.
Habitat and Sainsbury’s may not be the most obvious bedfellows, and locating the modish interiors retailer next to the fish counter in the large-format Sainsbury’s Nine Elms store might seem eccentric. Yet it does not jar in situ and shoppers visit both.
One of the effects of everything being available all of the time via the web is that shops have to become smaller, and so the multi-fascia strategy seems a solid compromise.
Then there are the spin-offs, and in this instance, smaller Habitats, modelled on the in-store branch at Nine Elms, would also seem to make sense.
Big-space retailers heading into town via small units also has precedent with operators such as IKEA and Decathlon all toying with the idea and coming up with mini-formats that keep the brand essence, but not much of the stock.
Less is more
On this reckoning, retailers are now set to reach more people in more places with more stores, albeit with truncated ranges. The challenge for all of them will be to put the technology into these shops that will make up for the lack of range.
Offering a flavour of a large retail proposition is a difficult thing to do, and success will absolutely be about the marriage of tech and brand image.
Habitat mini stores are just the tip of an iceberg, of similar proportions to the one that is due to calve from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf any time now.