Nov 2, 2015

Under the counter: a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

Returning from the bank the other morning, who did I see but my assistant Norman standing on the pavement outside the shop with a stopwatch in his hand.

“Before you ask,” he said, “I’m doing a display window impact assessment macro study on the correlation between footprint traffic and interactive engagement.”

Statutory mid-morning break
Seeing from the look on my face that he might as well been speaking in Urdu, he added: “It’s whether people like what they see in the window and come into the shop. Since I’m allowed a statutory mid-morning break under the 1998 Revised Workplace Regulations, I’m actually doing this in my own time.”

“Much appreciated, I’m sure,” I said. “The only problem is that if someone was actually lured in by the window display, there wouldn’t be anyone in the shop to serve them, but I expect you’ve got an answer for that, too.

“And by the way, I’m entitled to a cup of tea under the 2004 Inland Revenue and Customs Trivial Benefits legislation, so you better go and put the kettle on.”

A bit harsh? Maybe, but Norman does tend to get a bit above himself and I feared we hadn’t heard the last of this shop window business. Sure enough, by the end of the day I knew that while the average passer-by glances at a shop window for three seconds before deciding whether to give it another look, only one person paused at ours and that was to comb his hair in the reflection.

“All the experts say window displays can be the make or break factor when it comes to bringing in the punters,” Norman said. “Now it’s all about augmented reality, interactive experience and curated brands, not a pile of dusty football boots and seven dead wasps.”

Next day Norman brought in his friend Bertie Bristow, whose son Brian had done a creative marketing and retail touch points degree (failed) at West Hartlepool University and was now running his own consultancy from Bertie’s former pigeon loft.

“You should see how Brian’s rebranded the chip shop next to the garage,” Norman said. “It’s all about engagement and theme coordination. The punters are queuing round the block, although the chips are just as awful.”

Brian came in the day after wearing a pale blue velvet suit that made him look like Little Lord Fauntleroy posing as a drug dealer. He said our window display was so poor it was actually counter-negative and we needed to get customers involved through social sharing or alternate means of digital interaction, whatever that meant.

“The thing is,” Brian said. “Creativity needs to be flaunted along a broad thematic canvas to convey distinct approaches.”

“That’s all very well,” I replied. “But what should we actually do?”

That seemed to put Brian in a bit of a quandary, but eventually he said thinking in visual planes would be a good start, which seemed to involve running a line of blue tape across the window to mark the eye level from the street, because that’s our focal point.

“You could sell a rhinoceros, no trouble at all, if it’s at eye level,” Brian said. “Hang things from the ceiling or raise them from the floor, but so long as they’re at eye level, Bob’s your uncle. Let me show you.”

By now we were standing in the window. Brian picked up a 2009 Bolton Wanderers away shirt, a remnant of some bankrupt stock we once got off eBay, and held in up at eye level against the window. Almost immediately a youth knocked on the glass. “If you don’t want that,” he shouted, “I can use it to clean me bike.”

“There you are,” Brian said. “What did I tell you?”

“Very impressive,” I said. I hadn’t the heart to tell him it was Norman’s nephew, who puts his bike in our shed while he’s at the benefits office.

Interactive display strategy
Brian said he was working on an interactive display strategy for us that would enhance the shopping experience, but in the meantime he was due at old Mr Mortiboys’ second-hand shop next door to advise him on a new shopfront to replace the one damaged in that smash and grab raid.

“It seems the burglars used a potato to smash the window,” Norman said. “But the police think the evidence may have been planted.”

“No, I think it was a brick,” Brian said. He’s a bundle of laughs, that one.

We haven’t seen Brian since and Norman says the last he heard Bertie was planning to put his birds back into the pigeon loft.

At least some good might have come out of all this. Norman has found some rhinoceros shaped golf club covers on a bargains website. If we can get them up to eye level in the window, I reckon we could have a nice little earner.


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