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An online/offline retail hybrid

October 27, 2011

All photo credit goes to EG Focus

One of the things that really interests me at the moment is the changing relationship between on and offline shopping.  Not just how online is changing to be more like offline but also how online is changing the in-store shopping experience.

So I’ve been reading about House of Fraser’s new concept store in Aberdeen with curiosity.

Basically they are opening a retail space which has no products in.

Instead it has comfortable seating, free coffee and a lot of iPads for people to browse the full House of Fraser collection online.  They’ll be able to order online from this space with items to be either delivered home or ready for shoppers to collect from the store the next day.

Some of the comments have focused on the fact that this feels like an internet café with limited access – something that would be out of date before it even started considered the level of internet penetration in the UK.

While I’m not sure this is totally perfect in terms of a retail offer (they are losing the opportunity to do the one thing that a physical store can do better than an online store – let people touch the products!) it is really clever for two reasons…

1.  In the run up to Christmas they are opening a space in a shopping centre with seats and free coffee!? How many additional sales will they be making simply because they are providing a service that people will be grateful for and want to make use of?

2.  I wonder how similar people’s shopping repertoires online are to their high street repertoires (bar a few more specialist shops that are only available online?)  By opening this store-without-products House of Fraser are also creating a physical presence (relatively cheaply) where they hadn’t had one previously.

Not only that, this is a physical presence somewhere that people are already in the right frame of mind to shop.  So when people get home and are thinking through shops that they want to visit for the rest of their Christmas shopping they’ll remember the House of Fraser store that they’ve seen.  I’d be interested to find out just how many new online shoppers that month are shopping from home in the Aberdeen area just because the store has reminded them of the brand…

This could be a really interesting way for more pure-play online retailers to get noticed – especially with all the gaps on the high-street at the moment.

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