When ‘retail’ meant something
It was Napoleon who supposedly described the United Kingdom as “une nation de boutiquiers”. Whether or not we were a nation of shopkeepers back then, there’s evidence to suggest Bonaparte’s epithet is now starting to come true. In 2016, anyone can be a retailer. In the UK alone, in 2015, 2000 people became millionaires from selling goods on eBay. Not On The High Street.com is a retail platform for over 5,000 independent businesses.
At the other end of the spectrum, many large businesses who were once manufacturers have also extended into retail — Casio, Puma and Levi’s to name a few. If you are the director of a manufacturing business, the chances are you already own some sort of retail experience or you are considering setting one up — vertically integrating, if you will. And why wouldn’t you want to take a slice of the retail pie? It’s estimated that Apple Stores now account for 20% of the brand’s vast revenues.
What’s more, the unstoppable rise of smartphones and the evolution of networks and the mobile web mean that it won’t be long before we’ll be able to buy anything, anywhere, whenever. There is already very little that (assuming you have some sort of connection to the internet) you can’t buy with your phone or laptop while sitting on the loo at home or sipping your soya decaf latte in your local Starbucks.
So, retail can happen almost anywhere — at an airport, on a bus, at work, in a car park and yes, even in a shop. The popularity of pop-up shops is just yet another example of the shop — physical or digital — coming to you.
According to dictionary.com, retail is defined as “the sale of goods to ultimate consumers, usually in small quantities (opposed to wholesale).” This is such an all-encompassing description I’d argue that it isn’t a sector at all. I’d suggest that the term has become almost useless — referring as it does to every business from Wal-Mart to Oxfam or my local corner shop. Even banks call themselves retailers.
Retail is a word that is deceptively simple. In its most fundamental sense, it means the sale of goods to the public. But in the twenty-first century, the range of channels and experiences it represents is vast. We mustn’t make any assumptions about what retail is and crucially, what it could be.
We have to go back to basics — what are we selling to whom and where? And more importantly, exactly what kind of experience do we want our customers to have? Even if they happen to be sitting on the loo as they browse our products…
- Jonathan Staines, Planning Director, BWP Group