Live jazz and cookery lessons
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