Retail… maybe it isn’t as bad as we all thought.

The retail headlines aren’t painting the market to brightly at present, however, if you look past the doom and gloom statements, there is an impressive amount of positive activity showing signs of an optimistic future.

Clicks to bricks isn’t a new phrase, but it still holds high importance in the retail market. This year alone we have seen numerous online retailers expand into physical space, demonstrating the need for bricks and mortar.

Robinson’s shoemaker is a great example. The brand started out of a small shop in Carrickfergus and through online sales alone, impressively became one of the top 3 retailers worldwide for quality footwear. This brand growth through online sales is a great achievement, but to continue this growth they knew they needed a physical presence. The brand has committed to a 6-figure investment to expand their bricks and mortar, starting with a store in Belfast’s Queens’s Arcade. They plan to transform the store to deliver an exclusive experience to customers, one feature being a tailored shoe fitting service.

Another example is the French eyewear brand, Jimmy Fairly. This luxury retailer was e-commerce only in 2011 and today boasts 25 stores across France. To build their brand awareness internationally they are opening a store on London’s Regent Street, with plans of a further 15 stores across the UK over the next 12 months. They also have ambitions to be present in 3 additional countries by 2019! This brand is again, investing in the store experience, creating a ‘lifestyle experience’ utilising music, fragrance and materials to portray the high fashion and exclusivity of the brand, ensuring they are ready to compete with stores in the market.

In the value sector, discount stationary retailer The Works is bucking the negative trend and is targeted to open 50 new stores a year! The brand has said they are going through an exciting period of growth due to their niche and the loyalty programmes they have created with their consumer base.

It’s great to see so many brands expanding their physical presence and investing in the consumer experience. The consumer experience is becoming increasingly important and is where brands can really build consumer loyalty. Retailers that are benefitting from loyal consumers can move out of prime locations, gain cheaper rent and not lose footfall.

In addition, there are collectable stores like Games Workshop which have a unique proposition and have a loyal, niche consumer base which will travel out-of-town to see and buy the latest merchandise.

There is a lot of speculation on what retailers will do next. Landmark locations are still sought after because although they have high rent, footfall is guaranteed. As brands become more concerned about their physical presence, we may see further strategic positioning utilising smaller stores in a higher volume of areas and brands looking for shorter leases. For mixed-use destinations, this may mean re-jigging the format to have smaller units, which will deliver a wider tenant mix; appealing to consumers and lowering the re-let risk – a positive outcome!

The retail market is not as bad as the headlines are making out, retailers remain cautious, but a lot of positivity can be seen across the country. It will be interesting to see how brands become more innovative to differentiate their offering and how they move forward with their bricks and mortar strategy.

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