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Opinion: Why omnichannel retail needs real places for real people

There’s been a lot of talk in retail about ‘locality’ recently and certain brands, like Adidas, have led the field by pioneering a whole new style of retailing with their NBHD concept. They have placed their new stores firmly in a neighbourhood and encouraged shoppers to use them as a place to hang out, have a coffee, attend events, check the rails, charge the phone and meet like-minded people, both during store hours and at social events.  

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

So, 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 good way of making the High Street “My Street” and a nice antidote to the impersonal ‘one size fits’ all stores that have grown up with the desire or need to globalise. 

Brands like GAP are proud of the fact that the store you are standing in is just the same as the one down the road, which looks exactly the same as the one in Atlanta, in NYC or Tokyo. The pioneers of ‘locality’ all agree that if this is the case then it’s time to worry.

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, conceptually, the necessary changes can be brought about through materials, colour palette, furniture and fixtures. 

But, alongside a standout retail design there needs to be a virtual community too, one that offers the chance to create and be part of a tribe that has its own turf and its own personality.  

There are many ways that can be delivered to complement the physical store. For example, via a bespoke app that offers the opportunity to be part of a real community enabled by the retailer.  Some, like Nike and Runners Point, choose to create clubs, allowing for a social connection with other clubs in other localities.. Whichever route is chosen it is vital the experience is as easy and seamless as possible for the customer. 

Of course, it all comes down to joining up the dots and making omnichannel work in a seamless way. If this can be done then a truly exceptional customer experience can be delivered that acts local 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 from a seamless whole experience, rather than two experiences.. 

Rapha Cycle Club has been doing this extremely well. The brand is cool and links personal shopping, product selection and social events seamlessly. Foot Locker’s acquisition of Runners Point could seek to galvanise a similar approach for the running community that is growing exponentially across the world. 

Meanwhile, savvier retailers are already taking giant strides by making individual store managers responsible for product mix to suit the demands of a particular locale. Some retailers are even making store managers responsible for internet and PR in their locality. 

These are exciting times for retail and, 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. 


Nigel Collett is CEO of rpa:group

Will Cooper is Commercial Director of Mr B & Friends