Retail Differentiation

by Derek MacKenzie

You have heard it before:

When competing in a furiously competitive market, differentiation is a key issue to standing out from other choices your customers are free to make.

The bricks and mortar retail industry in any country is heavily challenged by an ever expanding range of alternatives which are available to their customers. New arrivals are being produced in cheap labour markets closer to the point of sales, lowering transport costs and avoiding warehouse expenditure. And the term OEM is now ubiquitous in products as wide ranging as motorcars, furniture, electronics and even apparel.

By far the scariest threat to the physical store is on-line sales. Yet there remains something inherently ‘human’ about the act of ‘going shopping’ – being physically surrounded by the sights, smells, touch and feel of potential purchases. It is more emotional, immediate and personal.

But the danger for the retailer would be to presume their customers will always remain the same, as they have been in past generations – especially with their newfound liberation to choose. Loyalty isn’t what is used to be particularly when costs, variety, service and environment are not at the center of the retailer’s everyday care and vigilance.

It is this last point which designers are challenged to respond to.

It is essential to a premium brand that they be distinguished from the rest. In this way, they have the best chance to be noticed and attractive to their audience.

Despite the world’s current infatuation with internet shopping, store design is irreplaceable in the retail realm. I can recall the doomsayers proclaiming the death of Cinema when DVD’s were released and similarly with the advent of streaming services.

The job of the Store Designer is to collaborate with the owner/operator, their buyers, brand champions/brand representatives and principals, marketing and management, to attract and engage a defined audience profile.

The trick is to do so with a view as to who the customer will be, not who the customer has been.

Far from bemoaning the emergence of on-line-retail, Shopping Centre, Department Store, Specialist Retailers and their Brands have an exciting opportunity to embrace this purchasing method and weave it into the fabric of customer engagement, relationship and service.