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Pretail therapy for the high street?

Posted by Richard Lambert on 13th May 2013

It was the same old story last weekend: another pay day, another ill-advised trip to Westfield Shepherd’s Bush and another occasion where, mere moments after leaving a shop, I’ve almost instantly spotted someone else wearing the t-shirt I just bought.

Unless you live in the 18th Century and make your own clothes, then chances are this is something you face on at least a reasonably regular basis.

The good news is that a new scheme could see you picking and choosing the things you buy on a bespoke basis before they’ve even been produced, thanks to a new service that takes advantage of the current crowd-funding trend.

This new approach to shopping could see retail channels flipped upside down, with ideas for new products coming straight from the consumers. But it also might bring hope to the floundering retail industry.

Lack of imagination

We’ve all heard about how the high-street retail industry has had a rough time over the last few years. Stories of year-round sales, declining profits and the disappearance of household names from the high street, have become depressingly familiar to all of us.

Typically, the finger of blame has been squarely pointed towards the economy, but this also obscures the fact that there are more factors contributing towards the sector’s decline.

One, often overlooked, factor is the lack of imagination going into new-build retail developments.

For every Trinity, Leeds’ triumphant new shopping development, there’s a Trinity Square, Gateshead town centre’s long-awaited £150m response to the Metro Centre, which promises Sports Direct and CEX amongst its confirmed tenants and an off-the-shelf, this could be any new, grey-and-yellow retail area in the UK design.

I can hardly wait…

While the latest facts suggest most of us still treat shopping as a social activity and prefer to touch products before we buy them, developments like this are doing nothing to stem the plummeting finances of offline shopping.

Therefore, high-street bosses are craving any innovation that brings something new to retail, whilst helping to bridge the offline and online markets.

New lease of life

Pretail (see what they did there?) is a new collaborative process that brings together product designers and consumers, with start-ups and entrepreneurs presenting their product ideas to the world with a request for funding.

Further down the line, we could see consumers proactively suggesting ideas for products they’d like to see to the community, which would be a revolution in the longstanding supply and demand model of retail.

For most consumers it’s rare to be the first to get their hands on a product, but pretail can give them that thrill.

With instant feedback, only the best products with real demand will make it off the drawing board and onto the shelves. The model also gives a boost to independent and new designers, who hopefully will inject a combination of creativity and innovative business sense into the retail design community.

Back on the streets

But can an online service have a positive impact on the world of traditional, bricks ‘n‘ mortar retailers?

There’s plenty of potential for this service to birth a pretail hypermarket or Apple-style ‘destination store’ for specific wares. Off the top of my head I can also think of a number of existing department stores that could do well to revitalise their business by adopting a fresh approach to how they buy their products.

Whatever happens, high-street retailers need to keep working on making their in-store offerings fresh when trying to appeal to modern consumers. But the only way they can hope to have a serious impact on their stores’ falling profits is through innovative concepts like pretail, as well as others such as utilising consumers’ tablet devices in-store. Then, and only then, will consumers perhaps start to view the retail industry with renewed confidence.

Richard Lambert