Last week was a depressing week for UK retail and our flagging high streets as Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster announced their move into administration.
The big four grocers and online retail giant Amazon are expected to be the greatest beneficiaries if HMV shut down all of their stores and close completely, with the continuing economic crisis and growing online retail trends blamed for the closures.
Often cited as the cause of the High Street’s decline – now the online retail market is attempting to turn the tide – with a variety of new hybrid online-offline shopping concepts being heralded as the potential saviours of the high street!
Several retailers have been experimenting with the use of smartphones for hybrid retail experiences. QR codes enable customers to buy things with their smartphones by scanning a code, without the stores having to physically display the products, which is cheaper and more convenient. A few stores have been trialling different retail ideas, using this concept – both in store and in different urban locations.
For example, last year Tesco and Samsung opened a virtual grocery store in Korea, where customers could purchase products by scanning related QR codes on their smartphones in store via a free, specially-written app. The app then arranged for the items to be delivered to their doorsteps, with no physical hassle. Another Korean retail experiment by Tesco used a similar premise but took it out of the store – the subway platform app allowed people to scan pictures of any essential groceries they needed from pictures on the subway walls – ready for home delivery – whilst they waited for their train.
In New York, Procter and Gamble teamed up with Walmart in a mobile retail experiment, using QR codes to promote their online sales in an offline way. Their QR code truck drove slowly around the streets of Manhattan – like an ice cream van – enabling shoppers to ‘stop them and buy one’ from a range of household products displayed with corresponding QR codes on the side of the truck.
In Toronto, Walmart tried another experiment in O/O retail, this time teaming up with toy manufacturer Mattel to open a pop-up virtual toy store. Featuring two walls of three-dimensional toy images, the store allowed shoppers to browse and make online purchases with their phones.
These brands show great foresight with these experiments – recognising the power of online shopping, whilst also acknowledging that many people are still keen on a traditional, physical shopping experience. And it’s not just the big chains that are doing it. Small hybrid niche stores are harnessing the twin power of online/offline retail, filling the empty units left behind by traditional retailers that didn’t move with the times.
Dutch independent retailer This is Soul sells specialist inline skate equipment. The shop is small and their customers do not necessarily live in the neighbourhood, so they focus on two marketing streams: serving the worldwide market via the web and the Amsterdam metropolitan region from their store. Now many independent niche retailers are doing exactly the same.
With Blockbuster being outstripped by web based services such as Lovefilm and Netflix, one wonders why they weren’t experimenting with similar ways to push their unique selling position on the high street to promote an online/offline retail experience.
It’s a clear message to the UK’s remaining retailers, that they need to think ahead and stay agile, innovative and creative in order to survive, making maximum use of their prime shopping locations to promote and sell their products.