The news that Oxford Street is to be pedestrianised by 2020 has been, on the whole, positively received, certainly for the projected reduction in emissions. Cars are already banned from 7am-7pm, but a whole lot of buses and cabs ferry shoppers up and down the street, and those unsure of the plan are asking where those 168 buses an hour will go.
Without a crystal ball, one can only look to similar cases of the pedestrianisation of major shopping thoroughfares and the success cases, such as Norwich (the first example of pedestrianisation) or Buchanan Street, Glasgow’s premier retail location, for an idea of the pros and cons; however, as we work for an agency specialising in retail, we wondered what the plan could mean for shoppers and the act of shopping overall.
If you imagine that when people are out in force, credit card or cash burning holes in their pockets, they WANT to shop. They WANT to buy stuff. So, our job as marketers in retail is to make that process as simple as possible. You’ll see endless agency credentials promising a change in shopper behaviour, disruption, and an almost evangelical switch in mood or mindset to facilitate purchase.
That’s all well and good, but knowing when to keep it simple and when to help shoppers shop has always been high on the marketing wish list for me. Our mantra is that we exist to make shoppers’ lives easier, and this makes our clients successful.
With online shopping very much about ease and convenience, moves like the Oxford plan will simplify bricks-and-mortar shopping. No more watching your back for oncoming buses, and shop and restaurant fronts will become more of an experience, retail will spill out into the street, and the whole experience will become more of a, well, experience.
In the online world, simplicity breeds sales. The less hoops the shopper has to jump through, the more likely they are to purchase. Removing Oxford Street’s busy roads, pedestrian lights and bus lanes is like removing ad pop-ups, additional sign-up fields and email tickboxes on an online store. It makes the shopping experience (which is the important bit) easier to access.
When your environment is chaotic, your shopping experience becomes chaotic by default. To get people to want to shop, you need a level of interest in the destination more than just the retail, but you also need simplicity. If you look at Covent Garden and even Box Park in Shoreditch, they have this nailed. Oxford Street may vary in that, aside from the actual shops, there is no real spectacle to be had, so the shopping experience may need to be more enjoyable and easier. Placing a lot of public art overhead (one of the suggested plans) may make it more engaging, but perhaps the shopping shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s not to say civic focuses couldn’t be added to the retail transactions. For example, Marks & Spencer could re-engage with foodies by creating food markets in the street, or
Nike could run fitness classes or create runnable retail routes. Ultimately, make it simpler to shop and the tills will ring, or bleep more accurately.
A Corporate Executive Board study looked at the impact on stickiness in more than 40 different variables, and the single biggest driver of stickiness was “decision simplicity”. If I can’t even decide how to cross the road at Oxford Street, or which direction to turn in, how can I decide what I want to buy?
Think of Apple as an example, whose stores retail chief Angela Ahrendts calls “town squares”. Why? Because they’re gathering places. Hubs of people who go to browse, visit and give opinions. If you’ve ever entered Apple in Covent Garden, you’ll be as likely to be asked by staff what you do or what book you’re reading as you are what iPad or Macbook you want. These types of stores offer exploration, inspiration – they aren’t just on a mission to empty your wallet. But, truth is, buying stuff there is easy. Clarity of messaging and simplicity of design has always been a strength of brands like Apple. If shoppers know they can buy a pair of Nikes online, or through a number of online stores, going to the flagship Oxford Street store has to be just as easy.
Simple sells. Fact.
By Ray Kieser, Managing Director.