A new way to link digital and physical retail channels? Leigh Sparks, Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling, gives his views on the new 'Clicks and Mortar' pop-up initiative by Amazon.

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Last Friday afternoon I attended a launch of the new Amazon inspired and supported Clicks and Mortar store in the Waverley Mall, Edinburgh.  This is the third such store and the first in Scotland; ten are planned in total over a year.  Someone was kind enough to suggest I spoke and this post has a little of what I said.

I had the previous week visited the second such store in Cardiff (the first was in Manchester) – and chatted to people involved there, so I had some idea of what to expect in Edinburgh.  By contrast though, the Edinburgh store is much larger, more open and has more of retail flow and sense to it.  It is in the newly energised Waverley Mall (and look out for more changes to come) and last Friday seemed to be attracting quite a lot of customer interest (and not just to shelter from this Scottish summer).

The basic idea is a short-term pop-up store showcasing sellers (preferably local) from the Amazon Marketplace.  The mix of sellers is curated, and then supported by various partners including Amazon (Enterprise NationDirect Line for BusinessSquare and Amazon).  Every few weeks the mix of sellers is changed.  These sellers have no or very limited experience of physical sales but do have an active online presence – hence the store title.  The ‘staffing’ also provides a way of encouraging online (and new) customers to meet the sellers/makers.  It is a pop-up store so the time span is limited to a few weeks/months in most cases.

Now I have not been shy about criticising Amazon in the past (and yes I do end up using it on occasions, so I know the double standards) and I am a very firm and vociferous believer that our taxation system has to catch up with the shift from a physical to a digital system.  Nonetheless, this is an interesting initiative by Amazon and partners which should be applauded. We need more experimentation.

To be honest though, the basic idea is not that new.  We already have artists centres and cooperativesEbay and Etsy stores and a marketplace for a variety of pop-up and meanwhile uses.  But the backing of Amazon and partners and the transfer of knowledge of selling in physical space to let online sellers experiment is a good thing (there are other less positive views of this).  Less good is the short term and sporadic nature of the trials, but then maybe there will be further phases with a more fixed look (if that is appropriate, and it might well not be).

The progress of these sellers and stores during the experiment is being monitored (not by me, I add).  It will be interesting to learn how they go on and what benefits sellers see.

From a towns perspective, getting new, novel and local things into a place is a good thing.  We need to recognise a desire for difference and connectivity/authenticity – and this provides a way in to understanding some of these relationships.  Customers often seek out and want this difference and authenticity and an ability to browse and discuss with those that are involved in the product.

So, whatever you think about the motives, look out for these short life stores and if you can, get along and check out the sellers.  They might have something different for you and need/welcome your support.  This is not an expensive trial, but a learning opportunity and each store will be different, so there is no guarantee what you will find. This in my view is a good thing.

The learning is also not only for the independent sellers.  The Cardiff team told me they changed the window and entrance after realising customers were unsure what the store was about.  We can all learn something.

Source: Stirling Retail

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