I review the impact retailers can make when creating a reset in this motnh’s Retail Focus Column.
It is time to hit the reset button. I’m not talking about complex five-year retail transformation strategies designed to find a new sense of purpose and better engage customers in the face of evolving shopping behaviour – though, clearly, many retailers have lots of big-picture thinking still to do. And not as a knee-jerk reaction as the end of the year fast approaches (there’ll be plenty of time for the whole ‘New Year, New Start’ resolutions thing, come January). No, I’m talking about a different kind of reset.
I’m sure it’s not passed you by, but ‘reset’ seems to be the word of the moment at present – attracting a good deal of media attention, largely thanks to Topshop. Dubbed ‘Project Reboot’, the retailer’s decision to temporarily close the vast majority of its stores in order to overhaul its merchandising before the start of Christmas was hailed by some journalists as an ‘unusual step’. For Arcadia: yes. But as with many good ideas, the old ones are often the best.
In truth, closing the store in order to launch the new season is a practice first started decades ago by Next. Though the rapid and seamless transition from one seasonal promotion to another may make sense from an operational perspective – delivering fundamental change instore while the store is trading is almost impossible – the decision by most retailers to manage stores metamorphosis under the cover of darkness has never been more at odds with the need for retailers to create more of an experience and ‘theatre’ around the store environment.
There’s much to be said for adopting the ‘(re)build it and they will come’ approach. In many respects, the idea alone that a retailer is bold enough to close its stores is also something that is likely to resonate well with shoppers. To steal a quote from another well-known industry voice, resets also afford retailers a valuable opportunity to “remerchandise rather than muddling through”. In December last year, US health retailer GNC shuttered all 4,464 stores for a one-day reset designed to “leave [its] old, broken model behind”.
Done well, resets create excitement amongst shoppers and store teams alike. Think of the buzz that surrounds new store openings and you quickly start to understand the all-round benefits. Just look at the interest and queues that the recent launch of Arket on Regent Street drew. Parent company H&M understands this (and executes it) better than most – its collaborations with the likes of Kenzo and Erdem are able to lure shoppers to Oxford Street at 3am. Supreme is another great example – its store Drops always pull the Gen Z shopper crowd hungry for its latest collections. Topshop’s Gucci-inspired ‘Merci Mon Cheri’ tee may have sold out when it came out in May, but it was a far cry from the frenzy generated and enjoyed by H&M.
Given that ex-Burberry chief merchandising officer Paul Price is now installed as Topshop’s CEO, the introduction of resets comes as little surprise. In recent times, its rivals have outflanked Topshop, with the Instagram generation willingly seduced by the ability of H&M, and online competitors such as Boohoo, to whip up a sense of interest and intrigue.
Large-scale merchandising resets of a store’s products can also prove complex, and completing them successfully requires merchandisers to have knowledge, project-specific training and clear retail communication if they are to deliver on plan and reach 100% execution. Managed well, however, resets provide the perfect opportunity to do just that, helping retailers to quicken the pulse of shoppers and conjure up both short- and long-term anticipation around what they can expect from the retail environment. What’s more, retailers can quickly recoup any revenue loss associated with closing the store for a day.
But a cautionary word of warning: if you do it, the spotlight will be firmly on you to get it right. If you want the transformation from pre- to post-reset to cause shoppers to stop in their tracks, you had better make sure the end result is damn good. Fail to deliver something with genuine newness, and well executed, and you will have no hiding place amongst the criticism you will open yourself up to – especially in a world hungry for instant gratification and driven by instant ‘likes’ (or not, as the case may be). Shuttering stores for a day only to reveal more of the same, no matter how solid your merchandising principles, just won’t cut it.
Whether Topshop’s reset will prove to be an outstanding success, only time will tell. As a wider concept, however, borrowing from the past could be just what is needed to ensure visible change instore is delivered with real impact – providing a greater sense of future optimism for a good number of retailers in the here and now. It makes you wonder why retailers have been so slow to embrace the idea.