News & Views

Back in fashion


When I worked at an agency, hearing the word retail normally signalled a weekend trip to a Basingstoke shopping centre to watch Michaela Strachan dressed as a safari guide (for our international readers, she’s a British TV presenter who does not convince as a jungle explorer). Despite their fees paying for most of our agency parties, retail clients were, more often than not, tossed to the bottom of the creative brief pile. Retail meant forgettable flyers, boring basket holders and passé point-of-sale briefs. The high street was officially dead.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a shift in how AdLand sees shopping. 

It was a hot topic at our recent Now / Next / Why event on Tuesday, piquing the interest of attendees and tweeters above any other subject, and we've experienced a swathe of retail campaigns in the Contagious inbox of late. Suddenly, it seems like retail has its mojo back.And I’m not just talking about the Apple store, the darling of planning directors’ PowerPoint presentations the world over. It’s not just the glitzy, sleek brands selling tech that are turning to the shop floor. It’s the utterly unsexy ones, too.

Last week I stepped into an Argos. Yes, that place with the catalogues. It’s ditched the laminated book of dreams and revitalised itself. Though online is a big business, the brand believes its 700 stores it has across the UK are a key component in its arms race with the likes of Amazon. Revitalising shops with new, digital-infused stores helped the brand to a 3 per cent rise in annual sales last year, bucking its previous downward spiral. If you’re that way inclined, you can even take a Google maps tour of one to see what I mean.

But it’s not just about giving stores a lick of paint, how shoppers browse and buy is also being radically revamped. E-mart has a feature in its app that helps shoppers find discounted items in its gargantuan stores. Phillips is playing with LED lights that flicker to send signals invisible to the human eye down to shoppers’ phones, seamlessly guiding them to the avocados.

And the likes of Sephora are transforming the selling space into an experience-led arena. The brand uses a product called SkincareIQ to help clients navigate to the best products for them based on their skin type, mobile check out to speed up the payment process and a partnership with Pantone to scientifically recommend make-up shades. As Bridget Dolan, Sephora’s Vice President of Digital Marketing, puts it, ‘there are inherent advantages for both online and brick-and-mortar stores and we believe that the more these two can be blended together, the better the overall shopping experience will be.’

Perhaps most interestingly of all, a number of traditionally online-only players are also opening up shop. Kiddicare, the child stuff giant of the internet, has taken over a number of former department store plots, turning them into playgrounds for parents. The space allows shoppers to test out products difficult to get a grip on virtually, such as prams, plus there’s a whole range of toys and play areas to keep little Timmy amused.

It’s still not perfect. Personally, I’d rather watch Michaela every weekend than take on the challenge of the bagging area (can someone please, please explain what’s so unexpected about the carrots?), but agencies’ ears seem to have pricked up. Retail is back in vogue – and there are plenty of creative opportunities to nab.