Carry on shopping

June 17, 2012

An interesting article was circulating this week about the impact of the recession on shoppers and hence how their behaviours had changed.  This got me thinking, always a bit dangerous, but isn’t it a case of the more things change the more they stay the same?

My take on it is this. 

Yes, we are still in recession and yes it has had an impact, but at the same time the same basic challenges still exist for marketing people.  It is still so much about Product, Price, Place etc, but not only are we having to work in more challenging times but then there’s also this thing called the internet. 

What that means is that a) people, and this is all people, have to some extent or another felt the impact of the recession and have therefore adapted their buying behaviours and b) the internet has been a catalyst for those changes. 

If anyone thought that the internet was going to make things easier for everyone then think again. For some maybe it does (make things easier) but for an awful lot of us it actually make things much more complicated.  We’re seeing that more and more with retailers being unable to effectively integrate their online and offline operations.  The internet has given huge power to consumers in their ability to research, compare, review and purchase.  Add in the economic downturn and this has given them real reasons to do more researching, comparing and reviewing.   Then we can’t forget of course that for conventional retailers it is not only about getting it right online – you’ve also got to get the basics right in store too – witness Tesco’s £1bn investment in its store portfolio and customer service!  And then it’s not just about doing that in a vacuum, you’ve got your competitors all experiencing the same pressures and looking to be more competitive themselves. 

So in short you’ve got a perfect storm being brewed up with consumers having to react to the economy combined with this great tool (the internet) to help them react more effectively.  But my point is this, despite the internet, and despite the economy, it still comes back to the obvious fact that success still derives from getting the marketing mix right.  The world has changed, but ultimately isn’t it still the same?


A (half) day out at the shops

June 9, 2012

It’s not often that I get a day out, or to be honest in this case a half day out, but with research taking place close by I had the opportunity to visit Stratford City, the new(ish) Westfield scheme.  And how interesting it was, I really should do it more often.

Approaching the centre from the train station, Stratford City is much more understated than its sister over in White City.  There is no grand entrance from the direction I walked and therefore the sense I got was of entering some huge space but having no sense of the scale.  Thankfully a printed mall guide was available which folded out into something larger than a sheet of A3 paper, the store list alone filling half of one side but despite that the font size was tiny that I don’t know how many people will actually be able to read it.  The challenge is that with so many stores and restaurants how on earht do you put it all down on paper – or alternatively why bother – or maybe just use electronic guides? 

First port of call the loos.  Always a good place to start since they are often indicative of a centre.  Wow!  Were they smart, clean, no spotless, and I guess they would be described by some one more poetic than me as elegantly modern.  This gave out all the right signals and even better, they were free!  (Always a point of much debate, “to charge or not to charge”, but in my mind anything that promotes dwell time is a good thing and with all these restaurants around you need to feel comfortable).

Walking around I was struck by the clever use of the overall space.  Hats off to the designers, it must have been tricky building around a major transport interchange, but the use of multiple floors gives it scale without giving the impression that you are walking miles and miles.  

You really will not starve in Stratford City. The food and drink choice is quite frankly both exciting and dare I say it baffling.  I can only believe that either a) the high footfall will allow every outlet to get its fair share or b) the winners and losers will be clear very quickly and we will see some rapid changes in the catering line up quite soon.

The fast food court was not open fully when I arrived, but McDonald’s was serving breakfast.  What I was struck by however was the number of tables laid out in 4s.  This is interesting since I cannot believe that the party size at Stratford City is significantly different from the average of less than 2 people. In short poor use of the available tables and chairs.

Despite the amount of catering I was slightly surprised by the lack of seating in the open areas.  There is nothing like a quick re-cap of where you are and where you want to go – even struggling with the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map of the centre – and you don’t always want to buy another tea/coffee/smoothie just to sit down.

Whilst covered centres are extremely popular for all the obvious reason to some they are almost claustrophobic.  Westfield have tried to alleviate this with an outdoor area they have called The Street.  This is great idea and since you can loop out and then back into the covered malls it gives a sense of ‘getting some air’.  Unfortunately on the morning of my visit The Street was acting like a wind tunnel so I suspect few people would want to stay outside long.

What did strike me however was the sense of lack of maintenance.  The leather chairs and sofas were already looking tired, but more concerning was that several internal (yes internal) signs were missing letters so rather than giving directions to ‘the Street’ what I read was to ‘he treet’.  As ever even in such a huge scheme it is the little things that matter, the attention to detail that makes the difference, and shows your shoppers that you care.

All in all a great centre, in all senses of the word.  Some parts still to be completed I know, but I look forward to returning again to see not only what it looks like completely finished but also to see if the maintenance teams have been a little more active.