It’s been easy for observers in recent years to conclude that the High Street is dying. Headlines have focussed on high profile closures and restructures, and the unstoppable growth of online shopping. With pressure mounting on all sides, many have wondered just how long traditional bricks and mortar retailers can hold out against the virtual onslaught.
But the reality, as Primark’s new flagship store shows, isn’t quite as black and white. It seems some retailers are tapping into people’s need to still go shopping – and are making the store a real destination, without having to go cross-channel yet.
A lot of fanfare surrounded the opening of the new “posh” Primark. The four-floor, 82,400 sq ft store has 1,443 employees, 111 cash desks and 92 fitting rooms. It’s the fifth largest Primark in the UK and the seventh largest in the company. It’s a confident statement of intent – something echoed in the decor.
The interior features exposed brick walls, enormous LED screens and a dark “theatrical” space. It’s not what you’d expect from a chain with a core value of selling up-to-date fashion at affordable prices. In fact, it’s verging on high-end fashion spaces – such as Burberry’s own flagship store, also newly opened and just a stone’s throw away. We may not see RFID and smart interactive mirrors in Primark just yet, but the technology is in place to create an enjoyable, engaging in-store experience.
And it’s hugely successful. The team tasked with opening the new London store (its 244th in total) will be packing up the ribbon and novelty scissors and heading off to Austria this week. Then Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal…
At BT Expedite, we manage Primark’s sites and take care of the software, hardware and IT infrastructure that underpins its day-to-day store operations. It’s a seamless end-to-end service with one helpdesk number to keep everything simple for the retailer, and we manage all calls through to completion.
And here’s the thing. Primark doesn’t have a transactional website. It’s not jumping on the multichannel technology bandwagon. It has a highly successful model and it’s choosing technology that helps support, enhance and replicate this model. The multichannel route, at the moment, isn’t necessarily the investment with the best return.
So sexy in-store iPads, complex ‘click and collect’ decisions and bewildering delivery options aren’t on the agenda just now. Primark is choosing a path that puts a focus on in-store availability, value for money, efficiency and now, in-store experience. That’s why choosing the right technology is so important. It’s all about finding the right formula for you and your market and focusing on the technology that makes a difference for your business. For Primark, that means getting the essentials right and ensuring the operational excellence customers expect.
The thousands who flock to the retailer’s new store openings would seem to suggest that Primark has made the right choice, as you can see from this amateur video recording of a recent store opening in Hanover, Germany.
By Josh Pert, CEO – BT Expedite & Fresca
…fortified with stuffed Quail and Venison
In this world of multiple channels, always on, 24/7, 99.999% up time, as technologists it’s rare to find time to pause for breath. So to be able to relax in the comfortable surroundings of Chicheley Hall for our bi-annual customer CIO Forum, pausing for reflection and chewing the fat with ones colleagues and CIOs from some of our leading clients was a welcome diversion. Not that there was much fat on a meal that included an entire stuffed quail, followed by venison, mind you. For the former was it really Quail or perhaps the smallness of the bird was because we were simply eating from a long way away, driven by talk of applications provided on the cloud, obscuring our vision.
Prior to this veritable feast, conversation had raged round the table, amongst BT Expedite management, and retailers from the clothing, footwear, pets, automotive accessories and outdoor sectors. Key themes that emerged included the following:
How can retailers retain control of brand values, yet put the customer at the centre of the business? Would the move to providing more product information, opening up Facebook channels and customers using their smart phones to research, lead to the loss of control of brand, or would product always be king? Perhaps it depends on the sector of retailer?
Should retailers spend money training their staff on their increasingly diverse product ranges, or perhaps focus on providing detailed content directly to the increasingly savvy consumer, via iPad and iPhone channels? Would customers see that as a service?
When would we see the death of fixed POS devices, chained to desks, only there to take money? Would the increasingly sophisticated product information and multichannel needs of stores finally result in moving to a true point of service environment, enabled by tablet and/or retail hardened iPad devices, with customers paying by their own smart phones?
When will we see the end of paper based receipts, replaced by emails containing all the relevant information? Wouldn’t that be an easier way for customers to manage things when you need to provide proof of purchase, when things go wrong?
As ever what is happening over the pond and particularly what was previewed at the recent NRF show was a topic of general interest. Could an idea like the Adidas information wall where the in store range could be supplemented by technology capable of viewing items in 3D have general use? Would the iPad really be robust enough to withstand retrials usage, or would these devices simply disappear from the store? Who knows but dinner was nearly upon us….
Full of Quail and Venison, we then listened to BT plans for the 2012 Olympics, frighteningly not much more than 500 days way. We learned, how BT is a key sponsor, also commissioned to provide all the telecommunications for the Olympics itself, the visitors and broadcasters, something that had never been done before. With the massive uptake of smart phones, we could only imagine the massive bandwidth requirements, the thousands of miles of cabling and the work this entailed. Our retailers’ attention was held by talk about the opportunities for pop-up shops around the country, at the various council led venues and whether this was practical. Time will tell I guess, but retailers being retailers, I am sure they will find a way.
As the evening drifted on our minds became focussed on more pressing subjects, so we drifted towards the bar and eventually onwards to bed, wondering what it would have been like to live in this house, perhaps every night was a Quail night….