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Smaller store formats hit the high street

Topps Tiles Wimbledon Village

Since moving from Carpetright’s Croydon branch to a spruced-up “concept” store in Clapham, deputy store manager Atila Hasan has noticed a change in the way people shop.

“Customers used to come in and get their carpet,” he says, gesturing to the colourful rolls of carpet lining the walls. “Now they want to spend a bit more time in store. They want to enjoy the experience.”

The new look being trialled by Carpetright is partly designed to attract more affluent customers to a brand historically associated with value.

It also reflects a trend among retailers to experiment with new, smaller store formats as they scramble to accommodate rapid shifts in consumer behaviour.

Ikea, the Swedish retailer, will open a trial outlet on a retail park in Norwich this autumn that will be a tenth the size of its flagship Croydon store.

“The UK consumer is demanding a very different way of shopping — they expect to be able to shop wherever and whenever they chose,” says Gillian Drakeford, UK manager for the Swedish furniture retailer.

Ms Drakeford says the space, currently occupied by Currys and PC World, would make Ikea more accessible to customers who may otherwise have to drive two hours to reach their closest shop.

Other trial stores will follow, possibly including one on a main high street.

Ikea is testing a similar format in other countries, including Spain and Norway.

But Ms Drakeford says the trend towards multichannel selling is more developed in the UK.

The key difference between the new outlets — which Ikea calls “order and collection points” — and its large stores is that the trial format will contain little stock. The company’s characteristic flat-pack furniture will be delivered to the outlets only in response to customer orders, whether online or in-store.

For a number of retailers this type of click and collect is a growth business. Many customers like the ease of picking up their order quickly, rather than waiting — and paying — for it to be delivered.

Marks and Spencer is this week expected to announce that it will expand its click and collect service to a wider range of stores.

In a sign of the growing popularity of the service, John Lewis last week announced it would start charging a £2 fee for deliveries to its stores for orders under £30, as the free model was “unsustainable”.

Other homeware retailers that are experimenting with smaller, more accessible store formats include Argos and Topps Tiles.

Argos, which is owned by Home Retail Group, has developed a hub and spoke model, with small, lightly stocked stores — including tablet-enabled digital stores in small locations such as Cannon Street underground station — supported by larger, well-stocked ones. Regular shuttles between the two shop formats enable the company to offer customers a same-day click and collect service across its entire estate.

Argos says one of the key reasons for the rollout of digital stores is to reach new catchment areas in locations that are ill-suited to its traditional model of having an accessible warehouse at the back of the shop.

Topps Tiles, a tile chain that operates mainly from edge-of-town retail parks, has been rolling out stores on London high streets. The new outlets hold no stock, but can take orders for delivery either to a home address or to one of the company’s retail park sites. They also accept returns — a common source of frustration for internet shoppers.

“The idea was to be more convenient for our customers,” says chief executive Matthew Williams.

Neil Saunders, managing director of research consultancy Conlumino, says ecommerce has made big-box stores obsolete in some locations.

“What consumers want is to pick something up, see a sample, ask some questions,” he says. “Local stores are much more convenient for that. Being more local has to become more important.”

The move among homeware retailers to more accessible locations follows a long-running trend among the major supermarkets, which have made convenience stores a staple of the British high street over the past decade.

Faced with declining sales in their edge-of-town superstores, chains including Tesco, J Sainsbury and Wm Morrison have rapidly expanded their small-store formats such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local.

Asda will become the last of the big four grocers to launch a convenience-store format, with new high street stores in Deptford and Wealdstone due to open this month.

Source : Stephen Wilmot - Financial Times
www.ft.com

06 July 2015

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