Dixons Stores Group has just unveiled a new look, new concept Currys PC World store at the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. Hailed as being one piece in Dixons jigsaw to halt the decline of High Street retailing in the light of online competition, the new concept has been described as an urban toy shop. It features a number of ‘stay and play’ areas aimed at attracting more female customers and “tech-savvy youngsters”.
At its heart, the new concept features a number of tables on which technology products are displayed for use by potential customers. Most people will see the link to Apple Stores especially as the ‘stay and play’ areas feature access to salespeople who can provide advice on the products on display.
The phrase “urban toyshops” was coined by Chief Executive Sebastian James and is part of a restructure that could see the number of outlets falling to 30-40 stores by 2016 and which has already seen the electrical retailer cut store numbers by merging Currys and PC World outlets. DSG has also experienced some ‘windfall’ success following the closure of its main rival, Comet, last year.
So what is the future of High Street electrical retail? The blog traffic on the Dixons developments have been interesting – some welcome the advantages of being able to touch and feel the product before going off to buy it online, having first done their research online to determine a very narrow range of options from which they will make their ultimate choice. Others seem to feel threatened by the environment and fearful of having to have a conversation with an ‘expert’ – preferring instead to do the whole buying thing online. Some welcome the new environment and would be happy to flex their techie muscle against the best that Dixons throw at them.
So a whole range of approaches and emotions to take into account – and all deeply relevant to the future of High Street retailing.
At best these days having a High Street presence is really about giving the customer the opportunity to try before they buy – to touch it to feel it and to make sure it’s exactly what the internet said it would be. Whether the customer goes on to buy it there and then comes down to some very basic factors – is it cheaper online, can I carry it home and can I wait 2 days before I get it.
For the impulsive and less rational, there might be ways around the price element, but if there aren’t enough impulsive shoppers around, retailers will increasingly be faced with matching online price and soaking up the much greater costs of staying on the High Street, operating their own warehousing and delivery functions and a Head Office to support it all.
And what about the old chestnut of face to face advice? These days you can almost live your life without speaking to anyone. You can certainly do all your shopping without speaking to anyone if that is your choice. This has produced polarised behaviour – if you don’t know much about what it is you’re going to buy, and think you might feel daunted, embarrassed or intimidated by speaking to someone knowledgeable, you have all the information you could possibly need at the touch of a keyboard – so you have the choice, do it yourself and hope, or risk that embarrassing sales conversation and hope.
Whichever route you take there’s hope involved – the choice is which route gives you more of a sense of being in control, because one of the things the internet does is to give us the opportunity to increase our level of control by providing information and helping us to make informed choices for ourselves.
So has Dixons got it right? Is going back to providing fact to face advice and the opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise the way to attract a group of customers who are not technology orientated and prefer a store environment to find the information and the products they want?
There are probably more people in the UK who are not comfortable with technology than those who are, they are also maybe older so more likely to feel relaxed in a store environment and interacting with salespeople. On the other hand, if these people aren’t interested enough in technology to use the internet to find out about the products they are looking to buy might Dixons be expecting too much?
It might be brave thinking for a technology retailer but Dixons might just have got it right.