As I write this, we’re cruising into the latter end of financial reporting season. Briscoe Group has announced a not-unexpected surplus, while hot on the heels of its lapsed takeover offer comes a disappointing result from Kathmandu. Hallenstein Glasson was looking shaky last year but as this magazine went to print, it reported solid growth in the face of increasing competition from international fast fashion retailers such as Swedish giant H&M, which has just announced its 2016 arrival in New Zealand.
Considering the fates of these companies has got me thinking about the nature of identity in retail. What gives a business its personality? And what does that personality have to do with success?
Millennials like myself and my deputy editor Elly Strang are placing growing emphasis on brand identity. A quote commonly attributed to Anna Lappe says that each dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in – Millennials are voting via their retail purchases with increasing sophistication as they navigate a world in which the internet provides them with an unprecedented level of information about products and companies.
At Westfield’s retail breakfast seminar in September, retail futurist Howard Saunders linked this sophistication to a “hero mentality” adopted by post-GFC consumers. He says hero shoppers are community-focused, want to change the world for the better, and are unsatisfied by standardised items or experiences. Heroes want their purchases to be soaked in meaning and significance, says Saunders, whether this is achieved through personalisation or a unique experience.
Small independent retailers are ideally placed to appeal to these high-minded shoppers. The best of the indies are nimble, able to pick up on trends and preferences from their local community, and boast an authentic brand identity that hero shoppers find irresistible.
Growing global competition has, to an extent, placed even the biggest Kiwi retailers in this basket. It’s sink or swim; differentiate or die.
Some of the larger retailers are acting decisively on this trend. Barkers has introduced individual themes to outlets such as the Barkers Garage in Hamilton and the Yacht Club in Albany. Mitre 10 is delivering a masterclass in brand engagement across its social media channels. Within days of releasing strong financial results which draw from its hefty investment in digital technology, The Warehouse Group is now leveraging its ‘bricks and clicks’ integration by opening a tiny cashless store in central Auckland aimed at click and collect shoppers.
The future of retail lies in balancing functionality with soul – and clearly communicating that to shoppers.
The retailers honoured in this year’s Top Shop awards have pulled off this clever trick, and then some. The team from NZ Retail magazine loved attending the Top Shop events and celebrating retail with the industry’s finest. Congratulations to everyone involved.
This copy originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 740 October / November 2015.