Recently Toys ‘R” Us and Maplin joined Woolworths and BHS in the UK high street graveyard. Perhaps the first part of more drama to follow, unless the likes of Mothercare and Debenhams pull their socks up.
It’s a bit of a disaster really — 3,000 jobs will disintegrate over the coming months. Of course, everyone has an opinion. The internet is up, the high street is down. Large retailers are reducing their footprint, small shops thrive. Craft orientated experience brands win.
The same perspectives that have been in the mix for the last decade are replayed often. It’s clear retail needs to reinvent itself — but the way to stay cutting edge isn’t always solved by obvious innovation — be in digital in-store, novelty kiosks, click and collect, or even selling more online.
An ailing brand promise
The high street presents more opportunity now than ever before. The issue here is less to do with the physical shopping experience, more with an ailing brand promise and how it translates across consumer touch-points.
“With toys in their millions all under one roof”
Did anyone stop to think whether this brand slogan was actually relevant in the digital age? It’s not quite the competitive edge it once was in a world of Amazon.
The brand should have centered itself around the memory kids are left with long after they leave the store, not the promise of unlimited choice. In an era where kids are silenced with iPads, digital should have been secondary to the fundamental human-centered Toys ‘R’ Us experience.
A world of opportunity
The business could have capitalised on its vast square footage to create a better and more enjoyable experience for children. In a world of too much choice, could they have re-organised toys in store around personality or skills attributes that parents could better relate to? Perhaps they could have sought to engage children in new ways, in a more multi-sensory environment? Could the brand have played a greater part in helping parents play a bigger part in their kids entertainment and education.
Imagine a toy store centered around character attributes, personality types, and moods; a place for nascent skills to be developed. A place where parents could entertain children free from technology (and guilt).
Indoor playgrounds and entertainment centres could be designed in a similar vein to the Ikea “Smalands” which allow parents to shop while their little ones are occupied by trained staff.
Toys ‘R’ Us was uniquely positioned to ‘hold a space’ for parents and children to build relationships with each other. Instead, they offered a vast and confusing selection of options in a charmless environment.
Retailers cannot afford to stand still
John Lewis is about to show the world how a 150 year old retail institution can not only stay relevant but be a trailblazer.
As the department store opens its 50th retail space in Westfield, White City (a 230,000 sq ft and £600m shopping experience) it is promising to be the most futuristic of its stores with daily fashion talks, cookery masterclasses and a “Discovery Room” where customers can learn new skills such as how to perfectly light a room or to make a house a smart home.
Furthermore, every member of the shop’s 500 staff have been trained by the National Theatre to help engage better with customers and provide world class customer service. As John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds puts it, “the modern department store should be a place to shop, do and learn.”
Argos is another great lesson in evolution. A brand that once lacked any contemporary edge, has now become an award-winning multichannel retailer. With convenient digital hubspots in city centres, underground stations and 50 Sainsbury’s supermarkets, the retail giant has come a long way from soulless retail parks.
What retailers need to learn is that in an Amazonian world they will never be able to compete on price or choice. Brand experience is the key — understanding what you mean, and how that translates. Staying relevant doesn’t have to mean every touchpoint needs to be digitised. Far from it.
By Anant Sharma, CEO, Matter Of Form