Never underestimate the power of ‘new’ in retail

First published in Retail Week, 11 December, 2014 | By Simon Hathaway

Cyber Monday, Black Friday and before that Singles Day have all featured large in recent weeks – accompanied by the inevitable slew of new stats on how much we are spending online and with what devices.

Perhaps the most pertinent number comes from the IMRG, which estimated that Britons spent £1.32bn on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend and usage of smartphones and tablets was up 4,000% on 2010.

Reading all this, the average person would find it easy to imagine a future with very few shops – but like most in retail, I doubt that. Here’s a small, but significant, reason why.

I had a very simple mission on Black Friday: to get to Selfridges, buy three jars of personalised Nutella and get out.

What should have been a very quick path to purchase was in fact an intertwining journey of pedestrian avoidance, dodging buses and taxis, being abused by cyclists, before finally giving up as I realised that buying this ‘can’t-buy-anywhere-else item’ was going to involve an hour in a queue.

As my walk down Oxford Street on Black Friday proved, the shopping fervour was stronger than ever. What drives us there is the lure of the different and the pull of the new.

Shoppers have always been frustrated at Christmas and Hollywood has even made films based on the challenge of buying that must-have new toy. Of course being the first with ‘new’ has almost become a sport and seeing the tents outside the Apple store on Regent Street, two days before the launch of the iPhone 6, is testament to the positive emotional response that can be driven by ‘new’.

According to research from Nielsen, in-store discovery is one of the largest drivers of new product awareness (72%) and outperforms traditional communication; TV is 59% and print advertising comes in at 54%.

‘New’ is probably the most powerful word in retail.

As we all strive to define our future in retail, struggle with price competition and transform to deliver the customer the convenience of omnichannel services, we must not forget what makes the store exciting and what makes people want to visit.

Those that are on a simple mission will move in increasing numbers to convenience and online solutions, but many more will continue to visit stores to find what is new.

New season has always been big in fashion and those smart clothing retailers are now turning their collections faster and faster. The speed that they can get new lines to market is what makes them successful.

But it’s a bigger challenge for the big boxes, especially those stores who must rely on suppliers and brand owners to bring them new. This calls for greater collaboration between brands and retailers.

Selfridges is very good at this. I have my Nutella now – three jars cost £12, about three times what I’d pay at Tesco. But it is unique, and new. If you’re doing the traditional crystal-ball gazing to divine the future of bricks and mortar, you could do worse than build a temple to ‘new’.

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