Big box: purpose, play, and potential

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Tesco has reconfigured the customer journey

The global retail news headlines have been forecasting the death of traditional big box retailing for years, however, they continue to operate and play a role in our daily lives. While not all are thriving, there are certainly indications that bricks and mortar big box retailers are developing relevant and meaningful reasons to exist into the future.

#1 Less rush, more play

I always remember trying to get into the ball pit at Ikea when I was seven years old, pretending to be five, which was the age limit at the time. Lucky for me I was tiny. This simple kids entertainment tactic was many a parents’ saviour. Ikea also had the cheap and cheerful canteen with the now famous Swedish meatballs among other delights to give shoppers a pit stop on their journey through the store. Fast forward a few decades, and the recipe for success hasn’t changed much.

The Ikea shopping journey was a day out with the family, and other retailers have developed their own entertainment tactics to make the journey less like a chore.

US outdoor store, Rei, has a climbing wall in its Denver flagship facilitated by Rei product and people, and Inspirations Paint has rolled out a Project Workshop colour consultancy to nearly 50 per cent of its network targeting the DIY customer looking for help and inspiration.

Globetrotter in Germany even has an outdoor store that allows people to try kayaks and other watersports. What about a virtual tennis racket tester in sports stores, a full service spa in beauty, or man shed in hardware?

#2 Click and collect

Again, not a new concept but a growing purpose for big box bricks and mortar stores, click and collect enables consumers to buy online and pick up instore. With many businesses banning employees having online shopping delivered to work, not to mention an increase in the number of online retailers, the need for collection points is growing.

Click and collect is taking different guises too. Woolworths and eBay have partnered whereby selected Woolworths and Big W locations will become pick up points for eBay purchases. Woolworths supermarkets are already doing it for its sister company, with Big W collection lockers, but this is the first partnership outside the Woolworths family.

What suitably luxury retailer could be the perfect partner for Net-A-Porter purchases or similar? Or to think about the question a different way, who is a compelling online retailer to partner with the strategic intent of attracting new audiences to an existing bricks and mortar store?

#3 Downsize to increase versatility

Whereas small to mid-size retailers have been rethinking their network strategy for over a decade because of rising rents and increased competition, the big box retailers have been slower to transform their network strategy.

In the UK, small format supermarkets are an ever increasingly important part of the network, but what about small format discount department stores, furniture pop ups, or hardware convenience stores? Diversifying online is a must for every retailer today, but is there an opportunity to create smaller specialist stores in the right place for the right audience too?

As with all retail on and offline, the need to remain meaningful and relevant is always critical. While the traditional big box retailer that plays a pure price strategy may find it difficult to keep consumers engaged, the more interesting and active experiences that benefit the brand and consumer is a ripe opportunity to explore and develop.

Clair van Veen is GM and strategist for Designworks Sydney.

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