In a world where the media and big brands appear to dictate consumer tastes, it is easy for retailers to forget that they can still determine their own destiny.
It pays to dare to be different and not always follow the herd – particularly when location is no longer the pre-eminent determinant of success.
This doesn’t mean being different for the sake of it – the Monki strategy in Sweden is not a model to follow – but questioning whether any initiative is right for your business. This is best exemplified by Ray Kelvin at Ted Baker who always asks: “Would Ted do it this way?”
Take Westfield as an example. Judging by the discount offers and service charges confrontation, it has not proved to be the must-be-there destination it was marketed as.
Westfield has specific issues, with the opening timing being far from ideal and the focus on luxury brands, which were conspicuous by their absence at the opening – in fact I wondered whether “Coming soon” was a new brand that I had not heard of before. Personally, I see luxury brands and large shopping centres as a contradiction in terms.
In addition, there is the presence of European retailers new to the UK and unknown to shoppers. For these imports, the choice was superior to that of Decathlon at Surrey Quays (a special award to the property agent who convinced it that the shopping centre was only 10 minutes away from the West End) but one suspects that for many of them it will also be their last UK store.
These Europeans can be forgiven, but their UK counterparts must constantly evaluate their footprint and, in the case of Westfield, factor in their exposure to overlapping catchment areas and the likely nature of the demand pattern.
In this context, Marks & Spencer’s need to rejig its space allocation at Westfield, to reduce the emphasis on big-ticket items and groceries, smacks of poor planning.
More surprisingly, I suspect that even one of my favourite retailers, Ted Baker, is overspaced at Westfield.
Ted is represented in The Village, has two concessions in House of Fraser and a solus outlet almost immediately outside The Village. Mercifully there is no repeat in Debenhams, except of course for the Baker by Ted Baker range.
It’s unfair of me to pick on Ted since I could just as easily, and with greater justification, have used a multitude of other retailers to illustrate this issue. However, if the best retailers can make such mistakes the problem is potentially much more serious.
My other problem with shopping centres is their sameness. Accepting that the secret of profitable retailing is the cookie-cut roll-out approach, this is no excuse for complacency.
Every new store should trial something new. In the 1990s it was evident that every new Tesco store had something different to offer, whereas new Sainsbury’s looked tired and familiar. Today I sense this pendulum is swinging back again.
- John Richards is a retail consultant