A few journalists have been pointing out recently that, once stores disappear, they don’t come back. They bemoan the permanent loss of the things that makes stores special, which really don’t need pointing out given that we all shop and know the difference between being in a store and being on line.
They have a point. While retailers are trying to work out how many stores they need, what size, location and layout, something is passing forever. John Lewis may fail to let half of its Oxford Street store as offices, but equally it is unlikely to use the whole site as a store ever again.
Brands that have been hoovered up by Mike Ashley won’t reappear in stores ever again, regardless of how well they perform on line. The consumers who shop Karen Millen today are not the same shoppers that once visited their stores.
The problem is, once we all get a taste for shopping on line, will we ever go back? I think we will, but most of the stores currently on the high street may not qualify for our interest in the future. We hear all about experiential stores but where are these exactly? On my most recent visit to London, which turned out to be unexpectedly depressing, while shop staff seemed pleased to see us, they had little to offer in the way of attraction.
Hamleys had staff dancing outside; great idea but I couldn’t see that it was getting people in the door.
Ralph Lauren was empty, which should have been nice, but I just kept feeling they wanted me out so they could close. Could be they I simply don’t give off the scent of money, I’ll take that.
Uniqlo was so confusingly ranged that I gave up; no one seemed interested.
The Burberry tea room was sadly closed so that killed any reason to visit, if only to cut through.
Welcome to the Fortnum museum
Fortnum & Mason was seemed empty of tourists, so it felt like a visit to a museum, a not unpleasant experience but obviously the former’s prices are much higher.
Liberty was empty and the Café is an embarrassment. Arthur Liberty would be shocked to discover that there is now a famous carrot cake that bears his name; tasteless and dry.
The highlight was women’s clothing; there are now garments of such beauty and originality that women must be desperate to have an excuse to wear them, even as Lockdown the sequel strikes. These were garments that no online technology that I am aware of can display to even half their advantage. Only a store can do this.
We did not visit John Lewis or M&S. Why would we? Here, on line will probably win the argument.
Stores retailing is special and it should be designed as such. That will come in time but right now, it is only the smaller independents that are making it so.