What is a… shop?

The work I did last week with Marks & Spencer got me thinking about how many of the things we have in our day-to-day lives have, in the past 10 years or so, dramatically shifted in their even if, on the face of it, they seem pretty much the same as they ever were.

This sort of disruption is the net result of not only technology, but shifts in the economy, demographics, culture and fashion. As someone once described by his boss as an iconoclast (and I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or not), this is music to my ears; assumptions need to be challenged, and basic ideas are probably wrong. It gives immense opportunity for change, for doing things differently. And, I am well aware, for most people it sits somewhere between the esoteric and the truly terrifying.

So over the next few weeks, in an experiment for the blog, I’m going to run a series of articles that look at what common objects, services and devices might actually mean in this day and age. They won’t be deeply researched, scholarly scripts (for those of you who look at this stuff regularly, I’m sure that will come as a shock); more some thoughts to hopefully provoke further thoughts and ideas among others.

Given the recent work, the first thing that I’m going to look at is, in 2012 and beyond, what is a shop?

When I was a kid, a shop was somewhere were you could go to see and purchase goods. There were specialist shops (greengrocers, butchers, hardware shops, clothes shops) and aggregators who had broader general ranges (supermarkets for consumable goods and food, and department stores for non-food items). There was the vague oddity of Argos (where you could purchase goods, but couldn’t usually see them in advance), and then showrooms for (usually larger) items where you could see the products, but then would need to order them for a later delivery (furniture, large electrical appliances and similar).

Outside of the high street, or even the emerging shopping malls that started to spring up after Brent Cross opened in 1976, there were opportunities to shop on a “mail order” basis, with catalogue shopping available from large and small suppliers, often from companies that had bricks and mortar presence as well (from my memory, most notably Littlewoods and Next).

Above all else, though, shops seemed to be places to transact.

These days, with over a decade of internet shopping behind us, the purpose of a shop is changing dramatically. If the only purpose of a shop is to transact, then there may well be cheaper and more convenient options available for both retailers and customers.

What a shop may be for today is more esoteric; it might be a place to “be” – witnessed by the number of chains who have tied themselves to coffee store brands in recent years to make their environments places to relax and unwind. They may be places to have conversations with customers, or to be able to state and reinforce the values of the brand (witness the example of the Puma store I talked about last week). Even that epitome of shopping as transaction, Argos, recently announced significant changes to the number and structure of its stores.

There are certainly some sorts of stores which will continue to be there to transact on goods – and it seems that those are either tiny companies (small-scale local retailers) or massive organisations (notice the rapid expansion of Tesco, Sainsburys, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose into convenience stores on street corners, train stations, garages and motorway services in recent years). There are also types of store that have or are about to seemingly become extinct (record shops; maybe bookshops?). However, for the foreseeable future, successful retailing looks like it’s going to be increasingly led by creating experiences for consumers rather than just stacking shelves with purchasable goods.

2 thoughts on “What is a… shop?

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