The 'blandification' of our retail offer
"Sign, sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign."
These words, sung by the Five Man Electrical Band, really resonated with me as I was writing this piece. And it follows the comment someone made to me recently about the crushingly boring sameness in some of our retail offers – or the "blandification of Australian retail" as he called it.
And he may be right. The "blandification" is all about the sea of sameness we see in every shopping centre with all carrying exactly the same aggregation of the same brand, window display, product range, staff look and in-store experience. It's this homogenisation of retail that sucks the very juice of what it is to be unique and denies consumers the right to experience something innovative and unusual.
Recently, I commented in the news that it is factually correct that many, if not all, of our new entrants to this marketplace are more profitable than our incumbent retailers.
Take the arrival of Apple, Zara, TopShop and the forthcoming Hollister, all within a fairly tight 500 or so metre radius. These three new brands alone will sell about $150 million in merchandise every year. There's no real rocket science to understanding why, although some aspects might be of interest you:
1. Above all, they are all "brands" and they differentiate first and foremost within their brand architecture. When you think about the three brands mentioned, you envisage different attributes, images, positioning and emotional resonance and this then translates to functional aspects such as technology enablers for Apple or the speed of supply channel and fast fashion for Zara, thereby ensuring they build a unique connection with their target audience.
How easily does this unique differentiated brand approach roll off the tongue when we think of our own domestic retailers?
2. They are all innovators, consistently bringing new offers, brands, products, services and experiences across all channels to their audience. The many hundreds of product and channel designers, who sit within the businesses of these brands and focus on new innovations daily, absolutely dwarfs anything we seem to be doing to be truly innovative and fit in our domestic retail offer.
Certainly, I'm taking a broad position to make the point as there are some domestic retailers who have an offer that's best in class and can hold their heads high. Yet by and by, because we're creating a "blandification" of retail, it's the new, innovative and differentiated offers in retail that are the only ones making strong results.
3. They understand that the customer of 2009 is very different to the customer of 2012. Increasingly diversified and connected, they shop on their own or in a community, increasingly less motivated by demographic constraints and far more globally influenced. Furthermore, they are connected in a manner and scale that we're only just beginning to interpret.
Consumers now publish and distribute content and our opinions have more potency than ever before. What sets these brands apart is that they recognise the value of brand advocates as distinct from customer feedback.
Tapping into your consumers' psyche is more critical for these "fit" retail brands than ever before because our channel agnostic brand disciples increasingly demand nothing less.
Happy 'fit' retailing.
Brian Walker is the managing director of Australasia's leading retail consultancy, Retail Doctor Group.