Retail, rebooted

Old school retail stores are just bad warehouses

By Glyn Britton
Chief Strategy Officer

The high street is alive and well in Marple. New openings in my local town—vape spots, cupcake classes, yoga studios—show that shops are becoming places to do stuff as well as buy stuff.

Stockport’s high street is a 10-minute drive from Marpel but couldn’t be more different. Here, the corporate high street struggles to keep the lights on. National chain stores lie empty. Cost-cutting measures have whittled customer service to the bone. Cut-price stock is piled high in huge stores. The contrast between this and Marple is stark, and it’s obvious why.

The big retail locations that are failing are not places to do stuff: they’re bad warehouses.

Customers are doing logistics on behalf of the retail brand. It’s crazy when you look at it like that.

Old school retailers gather thousands of things from hundreds of suppliers and put them in a warehouse. Then they take them from that warehouse to a big retail store—which, if you think about it, is just another type of warehouse. Then they have customers come to that warehouse, walk around to find the things they want, take them to a checkout, then take them to a car, and then home.

Optical illusion: some see warehouse inventory while others see retail product

Optical illusion: some see warehouse inventory while others see retail product


Customers are doing logistics on behalf of the retail brand. It’s crazy when you look at it like that. Especially when internet-powered logistics not only removes all of these steps, but also transforms range, value and convenience.

The cuts made to customer service in corporate retail have only exaggerated the warehouse-ness of their stores. What is left are racks of products, with no-one in sight who can help you with them.

The shops in Marple work because they don’t attempt to replicate the internet. They use physical spaces to create real experiences, driving demand for products.

So in Marple, I can go to my wellness studio with my yoga buddies—then pop into the microbrewery to drink a locally-brewed beer with like-minded beer aficionados—then take my dog for a spa experience with my canine anthropomorphism associates.

Of course all of these stores do still sell products. Cupcakes, yoga mats, dog breath freshener, e-cigs, craft ales etc. But none of them are under any illusion that they can compete with e-commerce for product range, value or convenience.

Instead they create experiences around a limited selection of products. Experiences that are distinctive, compelling, and create loyalty. Experiences that are high margin. Experiences that create demand for products (which can be delivered via e-commerce subscription).

A side effect of these experiences is that communities emerge. Vapers vaping at the bar, people doing gym classes together. This is what high streets used to do—created a community based on a shared locality. It’s just that these new communities are ‘pop up’, and they’re built on interests over geography.

This is the new high street. A series of place-based experiences around a high street, building not one but multiple communities. But it starts with more ‘doing shops’ and fewer bad warehouses.

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At KBS Albion we believe the hight street is worth saving. If you’re a retailer and feel the same then get in touch.


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