Electricals giant Dixons Carphone has taken its “3-in-1” model, made it smaller and put it on London’s Oxford Street. John Ryan reports.
Dixons Carphone, the electricals retailers formed by the fusion of three different fascias, has come under pressure since the Brexit referendum, seeing a sharp drop in its share price. At the time of writing (July 4, ironically – Independence Day) it had lost more than a quarter of its value in the prior month, and a quick glance at a graph for the past year shows a retailer whose shares are almost 40% cheaper than they were at the beginning of 2016.
A tricky time then and since June 24 it is almost certainly the case that consumers are putting off decisions about buying big-ticket items, which is likely to hit Dixons Carphone more than some. That said, unlike many who find themselves in a similar position and in spite of what is a parlous performance for investors, this is a retailer that looks forward and takes the present on the chin.
And one indication of this approach is apparent, since last week, on Oxford Street. There has been a branch of Currys PC World at the eastern end of the street for years and it looked very much like an electrical retailer of old with long lines of product and a relatively low ceiling, all contributing to a vaguely claustrophobic, ’sell it now’ sense. The old store actually closed on June 30, the day the new one, a few doors west, opened – and the contrast between the two branches could hardly be greater.
In place of a low frontage, the new store, which trades from two floors across 6,000 sq ft, has what would be a treble-height frontage, were it not for a couple of bands of shiny metal that extend across the exterior serving to frame the entrance as well as support the structure. What confronts the shopper then is one of the new breed of stores that are finally making east Oxford Street the sort of place you might want to spend some time visiting.
This Dixons Carphone branch is in fact a diminutive example of the rather clunkily named Currys PC World Carphone Warehouse stores, where the various brands that comprise the company have been brought together under one roof. Which does beg the question, how can it all be fitted into a space this size, even if there are two floors?
“We have done some careful editing of ranges for a city centre customer. This is the little brother of the big store”
Neil Hollins, Dixons Carphone
The answer, of course, is that it can’t, and this store is a far cry from the 40,000 sq ft single-floor 3-in-1 that introduced the concept in the fourth quarter of 2015 in Hedge End, Southampton. Instead, this is a store that contains elements of the three brands and some pretty obvious omissions, which are available online and can be ordered while in-store. Neil Hollins, executive director, formats and business change, says: “We have done some careful editing of ranges for a city centre customer. This is the little brother of the big store.”
Practically, this means that the ground floor is about mobile telephones and computing while upstairs it’s consumer electronics. Or put another way, white goods, which are the bedrock of the Currys offer, are nowhere to be seen, but can be ordered on a same-day delivery basis, subject to location.
Back to the front of the store, however, and it would actually be quite hard to miss this store when on Oxford Street, thanks to a “4k” (the latest term for ultra-high-definition) digital wall, which, at 50 sq m, is the largest of its kind on Oxford Street, according to Hollins. “Whether you’re on a bus or on foot, you can’t help but be grabbed by what’s going on,” he says.
He has a point as the left-hand wall that can be viewed through the almost floor-to-ceiling glazed frontage is a sea of pin-sharp moving images that follow the line of the escalator. It’s a bit like looking at a giant film screen, except that it happens to be on a very busy shopping street; to the right of it, suspended lighting fixtures in the shape of overlapping circles add to the spectacle.
Head indoors and first up it’s Carphone. Hollins observes that there is some pretty serious local competition for Dixons Carphone with Virgin, O2 and EE, among others, all having major stores just a few minutes walk away and therefore it was important that this store put mobile’s best foot forward.
“Such is the power of the digital wall, in terms of the light it sheds, that a large part of the floor and ceiling appear to change colour, depending on what is being shown on the screens”
In truth, the Carphone Warehouse offer in this store is arranged along the right-hand wall with a few freestanding mid-shop units in front of this. It is small but perhaps, rather more importantly, it does look almost full, integrated with the rest of the shop – no small feat with a brand that has such a distinctive handwriting.
Beyond this, there are laptops, tablets and suchlike, all of them displayed on what Dixons, in the days before the Carphone merger, would have referred to as ‘playtables’. Over time these have become rather more modular in form (the first store that featured something of the kind was the Dixons “Black” store in Birmingham which opened at the end of 2010) and it is easy to see how what is on view in Oxford Street could be taken elsewhere.
At the back of the floor, another illuminated wall is where the “Knowhow” desk is located and this too looks slick and modern, with shiny white surfaces complementing the back-wall screens.
On the first floor the consumer electronics are, for the most part, displayed on mid-shop wood-fronted units, all of which are waist-high. It is the digital wall that dominates, however, and next to it a “headphone wall” has more screens at its top, with images of the various branded headphones that are on offer. Such is the power of the digital wall, in terms of the light it sheds, that a large part of the floor and ceiling appear to change colour, depending on what is being shown on the screens.
Couple all of this with a Nespresso shop-in-shop, to cater for the metropolitan crowd and a Dyson shop (similar to what was done in Hedge End) and the majority of electronic needs for the city-dweller are met by this store. Hollins says that the fitout is “about a third more expensive than a standard shopfit, but a large proportion of the cost was taken up with the structural elements”.
The interior of this store is a step on from what can be seen in the Southampton 3-in-1 store and shows how three retail brands really can be made to work together to create something that is altogether better than the sum of the parts. The share price may be under pressure owing to consumer reticence in the face of an uncertain economy, but this is planning for the future and looks set to come good in the long term.
Currys PC World Carphone Warehouse, Oxford Street
Opened: June 30
Size: 6,000 sq ft
Number of floors: 2
Shopfit: Itab UK
Ambiance: Digital slick
For more images of the store, click here to view our store gallery.