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The Changing Face of Retail

It is often said that traditional high street retail is dying. The blame is frequently placed on the rise of e-commerce and the Amazon behemoth, coupled with changing consumer behavioural habits.

Only this weekend I was walking down London’s Oxford Street, long thought of as the epicentre of retail in the city. As I made my way, I found myself questioning as to whether these ideas were being propagated by internal rather than external factors.

These past few months have seen one of the biggest premises of the street, House of Fraser announce that it was closing its doors, along with 31 of its 59 stores. Others, Debenhams and John Lewis amongst them seem to be going the same route. Visiting these sites these past few days, and making my way through their beauty & cosmetics halls it struck me that each of these stores seemed to plan their floors in exactly the same way. None of them were offering their customers novel experiences. Each were packed with identically designed consignments, with the same brands, merchandised in exactly the same way.

It seemed to my eyes that they are either copying each other simply to mitigate risk, employing what is known to game theorists as a maximin strategy, or are simply planning forward by the inertia of their past operations, without bringing forth novel concepts or ideas. The problem now is that neither of these strategies is working any longer.

The future will be dominated by e-commerce, that seems certain enough. Nevertheless there will still be place for high street retail that offers a unique experience to its customers, especially in premium beauty & cosmetics. Take Harrods for example, whose customers still pay a premium of money and time to visit the landmark Knightsbridge store to buy their luxury items. Harrods have continued to post revenue records year in year out over the past decade, while other retailers have struggled with the changing climate.

The successful beauty retailers of the future will compete on the quality & the uniqueness of the experience they provide to shoppers. Competing on price, is no longer a tenable option for the high street. It is simply impossible to compete with e-commerce on either price or convenience.

Continuously prioritising the quality and uniqueness of experience will be key.

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