News that Homebase is to embed mini garden centres within six Next stores comes with both threats and opportunities.
On the positive side, with the home sitting at the centre of the consumer’s universe during lockdowns, huge sums have been shelled out on homewares and gardening, and this looks set to continue as the UK rediscovers its inner DIYer.
It is also a brave move in support of high streets in cities and commuter towns that suffered worst during the pandemic as people worked exclusively from home, another trend that looks set to continue as citizens discover that homeworking is OK.
Still on a positive note, because Next saw its own sales of clothing fall 17%, due in part to the fact that no one was buying formal officer attire, partnering with a brand that sells on trend products makes perfect sense.
The move also looks like a clever way to tap into changes in the way we shop, basing location and product assortment on new and emerging journeys. The challenge however will be to really understand the intent in those journeys, to monitor changes and then respond continuously.
Not everyone is ready for this
For retailers with a corporate culture and business model that enables them to act in this way, this approach is ideal but I fear it only works for a handful of businesses. The retail industry as a whole is not geared up in this way and I suspect it does not even agree that this approach is the right one.
Consider though what we now do routinely and naturally was only a year ago not even considered. We can now contemplate a future with only a handful of days in the office a week or even none at all; a future where the suit and tie is reserved only for workers in international finance; where more than half our retail spend is done on line; and, where households may be made up not of people with blood ties but shared interests and schedules.
The last one I feel is a bit out there, but we are all now contemplating the unthinkable and Covid has taught us that some of it is achievable and in some cases, has already happened. So fair play to Next and Homebase which probably have the agility to pop up and pop down again depending on how the experiment goes. For everyone else, it will be a long journey to adapt.