What retailers have forgotten

by Warren Richmond | CEO Situ Live

Jul 29, 2020

To anyone who wants to see change in physical retail I have a question to ask:

What is the single thing non-food retailers need to do to create positive change?

Before you answer, please consider three points for context:

  • A decade of change - the way consumers purchase products and services has evolved over the past decade. These trends have been accelerated by the current situation, and this will only continue.
  • We are human – we need connection. We have a psychological need to leave the digital world to go and discover things that will solve our everyday problems in the real world.
  • No more words without substance – the word experience is a great concept but only if it hangs off a viable commercial model and purpose.

After seeing the news of the John Lewis store closures I felt compelled to write something to highlight my ongoing admiration for the partnership but also share my disappointment in their current decision to close down environments that provide jobs, community, education and retail vibrancy. I have watched other retailers make their mistakes, but, there is something about John Lewis that emotionally got to me.

We all know that businesses based on long term purpose and culture survive. Cost cutting and financial interventions are short term solutions that only tick some very short terms goals. I feel disappointed as, in my eyes, John Lewis is a retailer that typifies this nation. I feel a sense of passion and urgency to change the status quo we find ourselves in.

I love retail and all that it stands for, but I must confess that I feel that the leaders and stakeholders in retail are somewhat failing us. I have not seen any wholesale change or any good reason that gives me hope that any radical change will ensue. The recent pandemic has created panic and therefore fear which we know hinders the brain’s ability to be creative and find alternative solutions to the root cause of the problem. In short, we have watched retail in slow decline. I have now lost faith (sorry) that these institutions can make a first bold step to change and save their organisations.

Retail has been in decline. However, it can evolve and Britain can show the world what it is made of. To succeed, we have to be creative and we have to get to the root cause of the issue and solve it. Learn from other industries and go back to your purpose, your value proposition and re-address who your audience is.

I motion that there are two fundamental parts of retail that have been forgotten: 1. amazing brands and 2. the consumers (us). Retail is like a dating agency to enable the best brands with amazing things to share with us, the consumers, who have simple everyday problems to solve. When retail works well it selflessly presents an amazing solution to a person who needs it. It is that simple.

But retail doesn’t do that – it doesn’t allow brands to breathe. It is chasing consumers too hard, and it has lost its ability to become trusted.

We all know this and commentators have written about the “death on the high street” (a phrase I dislike) for years. Now is the time for action. What the pandemic has done is speed the world up and create the need for faster thinking and more dynamic change.

I strongly believe in the power of retail and have always been part of it and as such we need to make a change now(!), a change today, because if we don’t we will be walking through a graveyard of towns and falling into a deeper economic mess.

So to my question, what is the single thing retailers need to do to create positive change? Retailers have forgotten what matters to brands and consumers because they are using yesterday’s commercial retail model, a model driven by margin, not driven by either experience or consumer trends. That needs to change.

Interested in learning more?

Technology is at the heart of the experiential retail destination Situ Live will launch in 2021. Our flagship venue in central London will showcase lifestyle products and services like never before, and we’re looking for innovative brands to join us.

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