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Get yourself a captive audience

I happen to know the high-end perfume shop at London St Pancras does a roaring trade. And I would cheerfully bet a week’s perfume shop profits that the next Duty Free you’re in does pretty okay too.

If you’re travelling inside the EU the words ‘Duty Free’ haven’t meant a hill of beans since 1999 and the perfume shop at London St Pancras is not a discounter. But both do well because they have the right product for a captive audience with time to kill.

The need for the High Street to transition from a function to an experience is well-rehearsed. But perhaps, when thinking about captive audiences, we have in microcosm the three-part mix of flexible location planning, multi-platform selling and the right product which make the point.

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Activewear pioneer Sweaty Betty spent over a decade online sharpening its focus on its target consumer, then used that data to ensure its properties were exactly where that customer wanted to shop. Its properties are dedicated to building an issues-led community of like-minded sports hobbyists. 

For another great example think of Seasalt following the customer who “summers in Cornwall” home to Winchester, where they recapture that holiday atmosphere before popping to the Ivy for lunch. 

New model required

It’s the exact opposite of a bricks-and-mortar expansion-to-crash typified by some who have now lost their way. Why eat overpriced Italian-influenced food from an identikit eaterie or shop as though at a jumble sale when you can order from Uber Eats and shop online while you’re watching Netflix?

Getting the right property planning in place to be where your audience is can be difficult. Landlords are facing competing pressures to provide space for offices, retail and accommodation.

To have any chance of saving the physical retail environment for future generations the entire ecosystem needs to work together. The government could lead by example and deliver business rate concessions for retailers dipping a toe in a new location. Property owners could follow suit by providing rental incentives to support businesses in an expansion phase.

And planning policy could underpin it all by delivering new mixed-use structures allowing a more fluid leasing structure, enabling occupiers to scale up or down quickly and economically.

Cloud Cuckoo Land or the future?


Carol Phillips, partner at Foot Anstey

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