Have you got the right ingredients?

How are our favourite retailers bringing more to their offering on the High Street? Some interesting trends are out there but do they really go far enough?

Earlier this year I attended both NRF in New York and Retail Week Live in London and saw and heard about some fascinating insights and developments on the High Street, all designed to entice and delight us but ultimately to separate us from the hard earned cash in our wallets. Merchandising, customer experience, technology were all very much in evidence as you’d expect, but what I wanted to witness first hand was whether this is now beginning to appear on a High Street near you and how much is vendor hype.

So it was that I found myself at Westfield London where I spent some time updating myself on what one of our leading shopping centres and in particular, its tenants, have to offer. I was particularly keen to see how technology is changing the face of retailing and what trends in merchandising, store fixtures and layout were affecting the customer experience. Having not been to Westfield for a little while the first thing I was struck by was the light, airy – well simply the sheer spaciousness of the place – which made an immediate impression.  And the more I explored the centre the more this feeling of inviting shopping boulevards continued to pervade.

Westfield is a destination, of that there is no doubt, but what this also means is that many brands launch new concepts at centres like this and one such is New Look who opened their new store layout a few weeks previous to my visit; I was interested to see if the technology and trends witnessed in New York and London earlier this year would be in evidence. The answer: well,  yes and no.

Probably the best way to describe the store would be urban chic warehouse meets neon kitch.  And that’s not to be derogatory; in many ways it works very well. Bare white painted walls, warehouse style unfinished ceilings combined with some great layout and merchandising draw you in. Neon and chandeliers feature prominently according to which department you are in and of course flat TV screens at every customer touchpoint abound. However, two things, both hidden away a little, caught the eye. One, the use of technology, the other a simple idea to help customer convenience and service.

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The first was a different take on the use of manikins. Known as “padikins” they are a normal manikin but utilising an iPad as the head with different images scrolling. Interesting and a more personalised experience yes, however the effect was somewhat spoilt by the trailing mains cables for the iPads which could have been handled in a much neater fashion; the next reincarnation I’m sure will see an improvement.

The second standout feature was the click and collect bar:

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What I liked about this is the simplicity of the idea, how many times have we entered a store to collect an online purchase but not been sure where to go to collect it? A re-positioning of the bar to a more prominent position within the store is needed but this doesn’t detract from the concept.

No doubting that the store is a great improvement and moves the brand further towards the centre, but I couldn’t help thinking that much of it seemed familiar. Moving on from New Look to other fashion retailers within Westfield I was interested to see if New Look were in any way different in the way they used the different materials & visuals. They say there’s nothing new under the sun and so it proved; entering River Island I could have been straight back in New Look and whilst All Saints retains a style more its own, there were still the strong cues of the chic warehouse still in evidence.

So it seems that in their search for brand identity, there is the danger of convergence appearing on the High Street. In trying to be different, are our favourite brands morphing into different flavours of the same recipe? Simply mixing the ingredients in slightly different ways? Strangely enough all this is great news for the consumer; as retailers strive ever more to create an exciting, immersive brand experience it is us, the consumer who will, in the long run, surely be the beneficiary.