Why omnichannel retail needs real places for real people

There’s been a lot of talk in retail about ‘locality’ recently. Brands like Adidas have led the field with their NBHD concept, which places their new stores firmly into a neighbourhood, by encouraging shoppers to use them to hang out, have coffee, attend events, check the rails, charge their phones and meet like-minded people, both during store hours and at social events.

A good idea, but perhaps nothing new. The first 1960s boutiques in Carnaby Street or trendy hot spots on The Kings Road had stores with a loyal and local following, as well as being trendsetters on a national scale. Retailing history can offer numerous examples of stores acting as social hubs, including the famous bookshop Shakespeare & Co in Paris, home to expatriates like Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso – all Parisians at the time.

With such illustrious antecedents, the NBHD concept has been a huge success and from Berlin to Beijing, customers have talked positively about feeling closer to the brand. It’s a nice antidote to the impersonal ‘one size fits all’ stores that have grown up with the desire or need to globalise. Retailers that embrace their locality, realise there must be a genuine and convincing fusion of retail and dedicated community space within their stores, even if this means extended opening hours or new patterns of retailing.

The philosophy of locality retailing demands that the retail environment reflect where it is, by creating an authentic sense of geographic place.  Adidas has achieved this in spades through its store design, and the new Starbucks concept has done the same. Both realise that the necessary changes can be brought about through materials, colour palette, furniture and fixtures.  But alongside a standout retail design, there also needs to be a virtual community, offering the chance to create and be part of a tribe with its own turf and personality. Savvier retailers are already taking giant strides by making individual store managers responsible for product mix to suit the demands of a particular locale and some are even making them responsible for internet and PR in their locality. It all comes down to making omnichannel work in a seamless way. If this can be done, then a truly exceptional customer experience can be delivered that acts locally but thinks nationally, or even globally. The digital environment should be as tonally and conceptually close to the physical store experience as possible. A great website and physical store should allow you to discuss, learn and make a choice effortlessly from a whole experience.

These are exciting times for retail. By embracing the available technology, high street brands will be able to take the very best from the biggest changes to commerce and society since the Industrial Revolution.  Already an elite group of early adopters realises that the future of stores is real places for real people – let’s hope the rest catch on soon.

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