It's time for radical reform

Nick Butterfield tells us about his 'change or die' ethos
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A client recently said to me that his single biggest monthly overhead was Google, and the figure was close to a million per annum.

This particular retailer has a front-runner shop and huge online business that has been built up over many years. He reacted to new technologies and consumer habits to brace for the competition in reaching out to new global customers.

Today’s footfall in shops just isn’t enough to survive. Most consumers can and do simply shop from their devices. Websites, apps, price matching, free delivery, free returns, loyalty points, discounts... the list goes on. Why would you bother going out shopping at all?

The answer is that for many types of merchandise and service-oriented retail – the hands-on, touchy-feely, trying-on, advice-needing shopping experience is essential to many of us, ensuring we get what we want. The dichotomy is how to ensure the purchase is secured before they head home with all the information they’ve just gathered in the shop.

Property costs have escalated to an unsustainable level in recent years, and as a result, most high streets are suffering from recessionary post-war depressed lack of ‘joie de vivre’. Pre-internet, the scene and mood were very different. Traditional shops buzzed with excited shoppers and retailers beamed to the sound of ringing tills. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of those shop owners simply haven’t embraced the technological revolution and ensured they can be found online, as well as in- store, and the cycle sector has been heavily affected as a result.

To most, this is not news. The real issue lies in identifying the best options for maintaining a cycle business in tomorrow’s market.

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Do you need a shop? Perhaps not, but you need a product presentation model. Of course, a website can provide you with a catalogue view of your merchandise, but all the emotional connections are void. You select several sizes knowing that you can return the unwanted ones for free. This cost to the retailer and the white van carbon footprint is pure criminal behaviour.

We have been designing successful, innovative new retail concepts for over 25 years in a variety of product categories, and I now firmly believe that it’s high time for radical reform. Town planners are now faced with what to do with redundant shops and their tenant’s dwindling businesses. Already we’re seeing a significant surge of coffee and juice bars that are redefining the purpose of the shopping trip. I believe that it’s now time to go to the customer. 

Set out your stall where they can experience your products and personality in real life. Now, you may argue that this is a retrograde strategy, but in today’s fast-moving world, the consumer tendencies have repeatedly been to seek out traditional formats almost from a more secure and comfort-based choice. As a prime example, the convenience store has made a return in favour of complementing the large format supermarket option.

In the context of cycling, the importance is high when it comes to pre-purchase bike testing and evaluation. Not even a traditional bike shop can really offer this service. My vision is to enable consumers to learn and understand the product offerings in a relevant context, where the key features and benefits can be best demonstrated.

Omit the A1 retail property costs, and take to the road! Imagine a roadshow event that tours the country, bringing the products to the market, supported by an online distribution network.

The destiny for most IBDs is to deal with the problem and seek alternative ways to attract new customers and that all-important footfall – it’s a ‘change or die’ situation. Accepting that something has to happen, I’ve prepared three possible retail concept solutions that could be the way forward: We know that people still love and need to shop. We also know that the town centre is being forced to reinvent itself. The town centre is now becoming a social place where leisure time is a lifestyle choice for spending precious moments. With this relaxed spirit, the consumer will interact (while mingling among the cafés and bars) in showroom experiences where brands can showcase their exciting new products. 

The showroom shops must deliver that ‘must-have’ experience – whether through direct purchase or online – with loyalty engagement from the experience. The need for expert, face-to-face advice in bike fitting and configuring (as well as shoe and helmet sizing) leads to a compelling leisure activity. Adopt the John Lewis staff service approach, create dynamic window display stories, and provide an F&B offer to make your store a destination attraction.

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This concept is to simply take the products to market. Not so long ago, there were mobile stores and services roaming the streets of Britain, and I believe they will soon be seen again. The business strategy would be to significantly reduce overheads and replace the shop with vehicles and storage facilities. The advantage (apart from reduced costs) would be to bring your shop to where the customers are in a positive mindset, and to put your brand and products in front of them in a relevant context. Harnessing social media, the retailer will need to provide continuous updates on the locations and destinations the shop will be found. Targeting busy locations where bike demos can be performed will provide a huge advantage over the traditional bricks and mortar competition.

Where do your customers want to find you? Again, making it convenient for them and presenting your products when they are in the right mindset is such an advantage to convert a sale. Automotive brands are now showing their cars in shopping malls and airports – places of mass footfall. This approach could range from simple pop-ups to brand partnerships, where there is potential for a complementary and synonymous relationship. 

Today, most public entertainment events provide a properly considered retail mix as they have a captive audience to serve. The key is specific targeting. Well-selected events can range from relevant locations, customer matching, lifestyle appropriateness and seasonal continuity. This could also operate overseas to smoothen the annual sale figures through peaks and troughs. Challenging times are ahead. However, with a clear vision and adapted business model, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. 

The article was written by Nick Butterfield, specialist retail environments consultant and managing creative director, Butterfield Design     

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