Home > marketing ramblings > The battle of the brands on Britain’s high streets

The battle of the brands on Britain’s high streets

Local shopsThe Christmas break gave me an opportunity to spend some time on the high street of my provincial market/ commuter town, sampling the wares of a few of those brands for whom I toil.

Three visits to Pets at Home’s new Bishop’s Stortford store proved beyond doubt to me that if a retailer provides consistently excellent service, the temptation to buy online disappears. Each time I visited I found genuinely friendly and helpful staff who provided expert advice and did so with smiles that went way beyond the usual platitudes. Top marks: my family will be regular customers.

Retailers seem to be making cautious noises about a successful festive period, and my impression – confirmed in discussions with my friends – is that the tide is turning against retail parks and out of town shopping centres. Certainly many local residents in my town seem to be trying to actively support independent stores wherever possible. Maybe that’s why only the very best ‘chain’ stores – like Pets at Home – are thriving.

In related news, Tesco – for so long an unstoppable retail machine – appears to be in a spot of bother; an impression not helped by the revelation that its executives now routinely travel by private jet. They might still be based in Cheshunt, in what is possibly the least glamorous HQ of any FTSE 100 brand – but Terry Leahy’s “I’d rather fly easyJet than private jet” man of the people stance appears to have got lost in his succession.

If the tide is turning against Tesco and others who have led the out of town boom, it’s safe to say they won’t back down without a fight. And here’s the fight:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/02/harris-hoole-coffee-ownership-tesco

Social media – especially twitter – has ensured that if you can’t keep your tax affairs secret, you certainly won’t be able to hide your provenance. Tesco aren’t the first company to try the wolf in sheep’s clothing approach but the timing of this move is interesting as it suggests that this move back to the high street independent is gathering momentum.

Can creating – or backing financially – a perceived ‘independent’ work? The store seems to be targeted at precisely those people who will reject a ‘chain’. In which case, why bother? As soon as those customers find out who’s behind the store, they’ll desert it, while the attendant publicity about cynicism might put others off from trying it in the first place. And if the only customers who remain (because they like the product) don’t care about its ownership, why not just go the whole hog and call it Tesco?

Are Tesco being naive? I don’t think they are. They are simply engaging in good old fashioned branding. If the product’s good – and by all accounts it is – and the branding is spot on, the store will have a decent chance of succeeding. Stealing customers from Costa, Starbucks et al only to divert them to ‘Tesco Coffee’ may not be reversing the homogeneity of the high street, and won’t help genuinely independent coffee shops either. But the fact remains that the vast majority of people still don’t care how much corporation tax you pay, or whether you’re owned by Megacorp, Inc. They’ll buy your product if they like it, it’s competitively priced, and it’s presented in a compelling way. That might not be good news for those who feel cheated that the cool new coffee store in their neighbourhood isn’t truly an independent, but hey, that’s capitalism.

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