February 15, 2017

Going fast and slow

Streamlined, friction-free, hassle-free, speedy, smooth.

The list could go on – what I hope these adjectives capture is how, in some elements of retail, there is an increasing focus on making the process of purchasing and acquisition simpler and quicker. Amazon is the prime example of this (inevitable pun), with various initiatives coming in thick and fast. There is Amazon Echo, through which you can place orders for music and Prime-eligible physical products; and then there are the new shops, Amazon Go, where customers can walk in, put what they want from the shelves straight into their bags and then walk out again.

Now I must confess that neither of these options has particular appeal. However, I have been tempted by the simplest of all the Amazon efficiency offers: Prime delivery. As a household, we accidentally signed up for a month’s subscription, and in the interests of research, I ordered and successfully received a same-day order, with an eight hour gap between putting in my request and tearing open the package. It was probably the quickest way to get these books. I would have otherwise been obliged to go into a big bookshop in London to be sure of finding them, but it all felt rather anti-climactic in the end. Drone delivery will be more exciting.


But what about the idea of going slow? Yes, I will acknowledge that this is getting attention in its own right, but in a way that is all aspirational and fetishised – think slow food, slow living, mindfulness, hygge etc. But what about slow as a practical approach to life?

Communication, like shopping, has all got much easier, in particular thanks to smart phones, which means we can pick up calls, texts and emails, whenever and wherever. I would like to share with you a recent example of a surprisingly simple but highly effective way to slow down communications. This example came from a colleague who is the head of an important public institution, and thus on the receiving end for complaints and concerns from users. As most of us will have no doubt experienced, it is all too easy to get bogged down in a long and ever expanding spiralling email thread. Here is what this CEO did: in response to a ‘difficult’ email, they sent a letter back. Why it was so successful?

It stopped the discussion at once: no one could be bothered to write a letter back and it seems rather odd to reply to a letter with an email.

It stopped any forwarding and copying in additional individuals, as is very easy to do with emails, thus ensuring that the discussion could be tightly controlled/managed, in a perfectly acceptable way.

And finally, and this is the sweetest part, the recipient was happy and no longer aggrieved. Who could fail to be pleased with a letter which is on nice, thick, headed note paper and which shows that the original comments have been reviewed and reflected upon, and have prompted a carefully considered response?

Now the challenge is to think about how this tactic can be deployed equally effectively in other contexts. Not sure it would work as a means of dealing with edits to Powerpoint decks – shame!



September 15, 2011

Being a consumer – leisure or hard work?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 11:36 am
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The opening of Westfield Stratford City, the largest shopping centre in Europe, reminded me of the time when glitzy malls first began to capture our imagination. The example of Bluewater comes to mind – at the time it opened (Spring 1999), I was working at The Futures Company and a team went on a ‘retail fieldtrip’ to get firsthand experience.

What made Bluewater so striking was that it tapped into a growing trend: the idea of shopping as a leisure activity. Indeed, on its site, Bluewater proudly states how it has successfully combined retail and leisure to offer a destination day out and that people spend on average three hours there.

Fine – ambling around a huge, sparkling state-of-the-art shopping centre can count as ‘fun’. However, I am also struck by an opposing trend: how being a consumer is increasingly hard work. Maybe what I am thinking of is the dark side to ‘collaborative’/ ‘co-creational’ consumerism. It’s about the fact that we are being encouraged to work the tills ourselves (think of all those stores now that have hand-held barcode scanners for you to pick up when you come in and self-service checkouts at the end); we are our own delivery service (the ‘Click and Collect’ option is being promoted more and more, whilst Amazon have recently started offering lockers for order pick-up); and then we need to review our purchases (I have been asked to do this for a number of recent purchases, ranging from curtain hooks to getting a plumber).

Of course, there is also a bright side to all of this (greater convenience, lower costs, better information etc). Perhaps it’s just that I am a lazy consumer who grumbles about doing ‘their bit’ for ‘consumer society’!

September 6, 2011

Moving from one end of the retail experience spectrum to another

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 10:23 pm
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“Do you know what voltage your lights are? 12v, or perhaps 6v or 24v? Are you sure it’s the transformer you need? Not the connector? Or the wire? We can help you with all of those.”

I was standing in a very small shop local to me, trying to find the magic missing bit which would make the lights work in the kitchen. Though the hardware store was barely the size of my living room, it was truly an Aladdin’s cave of endless very useful items, carefully stacked in boxes on the racks of shelves and hooks that covered all the available wall and ceiling space. Albeit not large, this retail establishment offered a deceptively large selection of goods, which the expert shopkeeper helped me negotiate.

Most of the shops I have been to round here are like this: small but perfectly formed. The large, rather souless shops of greater London had been my usual fare but no longer. Carrying out a very superficial ‘compare and contrast’ exercise, it strikes me that these smaller shops rarely offer a smaller range of stock but just less space. Take the petshop for example: our old store had big glass enclosures for chickens, rabbits and other ‘eye-candy’ pets; our new pet shop has nothing like this but it does stock a very good selection of animals including beared dragons, geckos, as well as the obligatory rabbits, hamsters etc.

Or what about the bike shop? The old place, a Halfords, turned out to sell more car accessories than two-wheeler equipment. Our new bike shop is another treasure trove.


However, in all of these shops, the killer feature isn’t the good stock range, but the staff – properly knowledgeable and passionate about what they were selling, even it is transformers for halogen lights.

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