Live jazz and cook­ery lessons

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By LaToya Hard­ing

The high street’s lat­est ploys to lure back shop­pers

Sit­ting back with a glass of wine while lis­ten­ing to a live jazz band sounds like a typ­i­cal night out in London – but what might sur­prise some is that you can ex­pe­ri­ence it all by pop­ping to a Waitrose su­per­mar­ket.

Cus­tomers at the gro­cer’s King’s Cross branch have been spot­ted danc­ing in the aisles while they shop, as the store trans­forms into a “lively hub” ev­ery Thurs­day evening with a free jazz con­cert, filled with sax­o­phones, gui­tars and drums.

It forms part of a sweep­ing move among re­tail­ers to lure peo­ple back to the strug­gling high street.

The so-called “ex­pe­ri­ence econ­omy” has seen an in­crease in spend­ing on leisure and en­ter­tain­ment within con­cept stores, which fo­cus on pro­vid­ing an ar­ray of of­fers to im­prove the over­all cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

Waitrose owner John Lewis is of­fer­ing shop­pers the chance to stay overnight, and even host a din­ner party, in a fully fur­nished in-store apart­ment be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion to part with their cash.

The King’s Cross Waitrose store on Gra­nary Square, a con­verted rail­way en­gine-shed, also boasts a wine and beer bar and an out­side pa­tio bar, where cus­tomers can take part in wine tast­ing, en­joy a freshly squeezed juice or cre­ate their own frozen yo­gurt.

If that wasn’t enough, the branch, which is one of its largest stores in cen­tral London, is also home to one of three Waitrose cook­ery schools. At­tract­ing younger au­di­ences with culi­nary-fo­cused classes, such as its Pad Thai course, the re­tailer says it has ben­e­fited from in­creased sales as cus­tomers seek out in­gre­di­ents in store af­ter the lessons.

But an­a­lysts worry that the rise of con­cept stores might be just an­other flash in the pan for high street re­tail­ers once the nov­elty wears off.

“Phys­i­cal space needs to be more than just sell­ing one thing,” says Jane Or­chard, a man­ager at the gro­cery chain. “Dur­ing the live jazz nights we have seen sales triple as we are of­fer­ing food and wine tast­ing. One of the things we are bal­anc­ing is that we need to be a su­per­mar­ket for ev­ery­day shop­ping but re­flect change in terms of what we need to of­fer.”

As of this year Waitrose has opened 86 sushi bars across the UK, which the su­per­mar­ket chain says is a re­sponse to chang­ing cus­tomer de­mands.

“Our con­cepts are largely adapted around food, which is in line with us be­ing a su­per­mar­ket. Life­style choices are chang­ing, peo­ple want to eat on the move and have ac­cess to healthy food,” Or­chard says. “The ques­tion is, what is go­ing to en­hance cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. We need to pro­vide some­thing that can’t be repli­cated on­line.”

High street re­tail­ers have strug­gled re­cently amid de­clin­ing foot­fall and ris­ing busi­ness rates. Many have been forced to re­struc­ture their busi­nesses and close out­lets to stay afloat.

For oth­ers, re­de­vel­op­ing stores that cre­ate lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ences has been a way to com­bat the rise of on­line shop­ping. Cos­met­ics re­tailer Lush, fa­mous for its wide se­lec­tion of bath bombs and creams, has fol­lowed suit. Its Ox­ford Street flag­ship store, the largest Lush shop in the world, of­fers an un­der­ground spa, mu­sic sta­tion and mas­sage sec­tion.

It has re­cently launched an app to as­sist with in-store shop­ping, as well as pro­vid­ing fa­cial treat­ments in store for those “on the go”.

“Fresh Fa­cials will launch just in time for the busy fes­tive season, aim­ing to re­lax and re­vive cus­tomers who are vis­it­ing our busy Ox­ford Street Spa store,” the com­pany said. Ac­cord­ing to new re­search from Cri­teo, 40pc of UK shop­pers are “look­ing for more” than just shop­ping.

“The find­ings il­lus­trate a clear trend in shop­ping be­hav­iour, be­ing driven mostly by young shop­pers, who have in­creased ex­pec­ta­tions through their ex­pe­ri­ences with on­line and mo­bile,” says John Gil­lan, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Cri­teo.

“This in turn has raised shop­pers’ ex­pec­ta­tions about the level of per­son­al­i­sa­tion, ser­vice, ef­fi­ciency of shop, and shop­ping en­vi­ron­ment,” Gil­lan says.

While the rise of con­cept stores is slowly mak­ing bricks-and-mor­tar re­tail­ers rel­e­vant again, there are fears that bricks-and-mor­tar re­tail­ers will only ben­e­fit in the short-run.

“For too long the UK’s ma­jor re­tail­ers have re­lied on their rep­u­ta­tion and won­dered why foot­fall, sales and prof­its were plum­met­ing when their of­fer­ing had re­mained un­changed for decades,” says Richard Stables of Kelkoo.

“Whilst all in­no­va­tion should be wel­comed; it’s too lit­tle, too late for the high street. Lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ences may boost cus­tomer foot­fall ini­tially but, when the nov­elty wears off, th­ese re­tail­ers will still lose out to on­line re­tail­ers in the longer term.

“On­line re­tail­ers still have the up­per hand,” says Stables. “Bricks-and­mor­tar re­tail­ers strug­gled dur­ing Black Fri­day, with on­line re­tail­ers en­joy­ing sales growth and com­pre­hen­sively win­ning the bat­tle for cus­tomers.

“The di­rec­tion the retail sec­tor is headed is clear: ecom­merce is the fu­ture, and the in­tro­duc­tion of lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ences won’t turn the tide.”

Cos­met­ics re­tailer Lush of­fers an un­der­ground spa, mu­sic sta­tion and mas­sage sec­tion at its flag­ship Ox­ford Street store, left; John Lewis in­vites shop­pers to spend the night, be­low left

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