The University of Derby’s white logo of three hills against a blue background appears. Underneath the logo, text fades in saying ‘University of Derby Inaugural Lecture Series’.
This fades through to a blue slide with a red border and white text with the title of Carley’s inaugural lecture:
‘Retail in the community: Beyond the buyer-seller transaction. Professor Carley Foster, 12 May 2021’.
Welcome everybody, and I'd like to thank all of you for joining me this evening and listening to my inaugural.
My talk today is going to draw upon some key studies in my career, all of which have a common theme, and that is how retailing can support and is supported by the community in which it's located.
And by community, I mean the local high street, the town or city centre, shopping centres or even more unusual places like train stations, which I'll come on to later in my talk. So, retailing isn't just about the transaction of money in return for a good or service, it's actually more complicated than that.
And I think it's really important for us to understand the context in which retail takes place if we want retail to thrive. My talk today is looking at physical retailing, so bricks-and-mortar retailing rather than online retailing.
The slide shifts to the left to make space for a live video of Carley on a webcam. She is a white woman with long blonde hair. She is wearing glasses, a fawn jacket and a white shirt.
And that's because my work has focused on the interactions between store staff and customers, and the reasons for that focus will become hopefully clearer throughout the presentation.
My work draws upon large national chains in the UK, but also smaller independent retailers where they may only have one store. I'm also going to talk about some methodological insights in terms of how we try and unpick some of this context and try to understand what's really going on, and I'll also talk about some of the implications of my work and future research opportunities.
Although Covid hasn't been the focus yet of my work, the findings I'm going to share with you today and the themes I'm going to talk about, I think, have real relevance to the current situation that we're in, particularly in terms of high street regeneration. Next slide, please.
A white slide shows black text:
Professor Lynette Harris Professor Paul Whysall Professor Carole Tansley Dr Susan Kirk
The students, academic and industry colleagues I have worked with throughout my career
My family & friends
So, before I start my talk, I'd like to express some personal thanks to a number of people that have helped support me in reaching the position I'm in.
Firstly, I'd like to thank Professor Lynette Harris and Professor Paul Weissel who were my PhD supervisors, who then became academic colleagues, and later, my friends.
I'd like to thank them in particular for teaching me how to write, and that's a process that never really stops, and I also now supervise my own PhD students and doctoral students based on the things I learned from them nearly 20 years ago.
I'd also like to thank Professor Carol Tansley and Dr Susan Kirk who are two academic colleagues that have really supported me throughout my endeavours, and helped me to keep sane when papers and projects have been rejected, but also celebrate the success when they've been accepted or published. I'd also like to thank my students, my doctoral students, my academic colleagues including the people here that I work with at the University of Derby and also the industry colleagues I've worked with over my career.
All of these people have helped me to learn, improve and really opened my eyes to the challenges they're facing, so whether that's helping students develop their conceptual frameworks or working with early career researchers and trying to shape their new, exciting ideas.
And also, a thank you to those people that I've interviewed in industry, in retailing, and some of which have shared some really personal stories with me. Finally, I'd like to thank my family and my friends. They've supported me every step of the way and really encouraged me to take up the opportunities when they've arisen, and I'm really grateful for all of their support. Next slide.
The slide changes.
Draws on different strands of my research
The role of store staff in the community based retail experience
Adapting the retail encounter to the local community
Subconscious attitudes held in retail
Temporary retail as a way of regenerating the community and co-creating a memorable retail experience
Qualitative research as a way of uncovering hidden meanings
Implications Future directions
So, moving on to my talk. As I said at the start, my talk is about how the community can support retailing and how retail supports the community in turn, and there are four strands in addition to the methodological areas I'm going to talk about that are the focus of the talk today. So, the first area focuses on the role of store staff.
So, retailing isn't just about the customers, it's also about the staff and how they interact with the customers and create a positive experience in store. And it's also about how they create a sense of community at that local store level, which I'll explain later.
Another theme is relating to the extent to which retailers need to adapt their offer to the locality, to the local community in which they're based, and I'll come on to that later.
Another theme relates to some subconscious attitudes that customers hold, in particular of retail staff, and the extent to which the appearance of store staff can actually influence how customers interact with them. I'm also going to talk about temporary retailing, so in particular, pop-up retailing, as a way of regenerating the community and trying to create a memorable retail experience for customers.
I'll then move on to methodology and in particular, qualitative research, which has been the approach that I've taken with most of my work, and how that's really important if we want to try and uncover some of the hidden meanings people have and associate with the retail experience. I'll then move on to implications and some future directions for my research. Next slide, please.
The constant theme in a fast-paced industry
Over 20 years of applied research in retailing with large retail chains, independent small retailers, customers and retail stakeholders
Retail is a continually evolving and highly competitive industry
Yet, one constant theme to emerge from my research is the importance of retail in the community and the benefits this can bring
Retail context is extremely important
Themes identified early on in my career are even more relevant now, particularly during and post-pandemic
So, in terms of my career, as Kamil explained, I've worked in retail and I've had lots of experience researching in the industry. So, I've worked with large retail chains in the UK, independent small retailers that might only have one or two stores and might actually be owned and run by the same person.
I've also spoken to retail customers and wider retail stakeholders that have a say in how retail works; so that can be shopping centre managers, local councils, and other organisations responsible for town centres, and what I've observed over this period is that retailing is something that is constantly changing and continually evolving.
So, during my career I've seen the rise of online retailing, more recently the impact of Covid on the high street changing consumer demands, we've seen the emergence of things like self-service in stores, and I think during my career the impact of Covid and the rise of online retailing have perhaps been the most influential things. So, we've got lots of change in the industry and added to that retailing is really competitive.
A lot of retailers work to very small margins and traditionally, price has been a major competitive tool, but given all this change, one constant theme I've had in my research is the importance of the community in which the retailer is based, and the benefits that that can bring. So, the context in which retail takes place becomes really important.
So, where that store is located, how the staff interact with the local customer base, and that's often something that's overlooked by large retailers. Because of their size they're more focused on economies of scale with very little adaptation made to the locality. So, retail context is important.
And as I said at the start, the themes that I identify and talk about today, and they were identified throughout my career, but I think a lot of them have even more relevance now as we see ourselves in the pandemic, and hopefully post-pandemic, because we're seeing a move, I think, back to that community-based retailing.
People are shopping more locally and developing stronger relationships with their local stores. Next slide, please.
Beyond the retail transaction….
So, I think we need to go beyond simply looking at retail as a transaction between the buyer and the seller, so it's not just about exchanging money for a good or service.
In some instances that is still the case, so we see that a bit with online retailing, although delivery might form part of that additional service, but generally, retailing has been seen as the exchange of money for a good or service and I think we need to go beyond that and start to look at what else influences the purchasing behaviour of customers.
So, we need to consider the context in which that transaction takes place, so whether that be the store itself, where the store's located and the role staff have in that transaction. And most research in retail tends to consider the consumer and their decision-making around what products they buy, and actually very little research looks at the role staff have in shaping that retail experience.
And I think that's a really important consideration because pre-Covid, there were approximately three million people working in retail in the UK, and the vast majority of those people worked in stores, so that made retail one of the largest private employers in the UK.
In addition to that, retail employs lots of women, more women than men, and it's estimated that half of all staff work part-time, so retail offers lots of flexibility for workers in terms of other commitments. Then added to that, retail is made up of lots of independents, so latest figures suggest that 64% of all retailing in the UK is made up of independent retail and leisure, so the retail context starts to become really important, I think. Next slide please.
The retail experience
Creating a memorable experience in a store acts as a source of competitive advantage
Ranges from a hedonistic experience through to securing engagement with the customer
Studies have neglected how this retail experience reflects the ‘community’ based context
The place in which the store is located and embedded is key
A perspective often overlooked, particularly by large retailers
Treating customers the same in terms of levels of service & products sold
So, if we start to look at the retail experience - so, this is the experience that customers have when they go into a shop - retailers are trying to create what we call a memorable experience. So, if that experience is favourable the customer is more likely to come back to that store rather than going to another retailer, so that can act as a source of competitive advantage.
And that memorable experience might relate to the look and feel of the store, it might be the customer's ability to experiment with their products, so they might be able to taste food in the store, listen to music in store, they might be able to smell things like perfume or food, again they might be able to try on clothes or experiment with cosmetics, and all of that can create quite a sensory experience, quite a hedonistic experience, which hopefully creates something that's quite memorable.
But it doesn't have to be as extreme as that, it can also be about just a simple engagement between a staff member and a customer who is for example trying to find out more about the product.
So, reflecting the community in which the retailer sits becomes an interesting area, because studies have actually neglected how this retail experience can reflect the community-based context in which the place in which the store is located and embedded, and as I said earlier, that's a perspective that's often overlooked, particularly by large retailers.
So, because of the size of national retailers, they tend to treat customers the same in terms of levels of service and in terms of their products sold because consistency is really important and also achieving those economies of scale. Next slide, please.
Retail service encounters
Focus on the encounter – the bridge between the buyer & the seller
Retail is highly participative but heterogenous
Retailing is a combination of products & services
Tangible and intangible ‘clues’ become important
Prior expectations as to what this interaction is going to be like
Retail service encounters do not operate in a vacuum
So if we drill down even further and look at the interactions between the customers and the staff members, we can start to look at what's called the retail service encounter, and that's essentially the bridge between the buyer and the seller, and that interaction becomes an interesting point of research because retailing is very participative, in that customers often go into stores and they want to find out about the products, they need to ask staff questions, but retailing is such that it can make those interactions heterogeneous.
So by that I mean just because a customer goes into the same store that they've been in before, it doesn't mean that they're going to get a similar service encounter, they might be dealing with a different staff member, they might be asking about a different product, and then added to that, retailing is actually quite complex because it's not just about the products being sold, there's often a service that accompanies that product.
So, as I said earlier, the staff member might have to explain the product, its features and so on. And when a customer goes into a store and they're aware that they might have to approach a member of staff what they start to do is look for tangible and intangible clues as to what that service level might be like, and so tangible clues might be for example what the store looks like, but it could also be what the staff members look like, so are they wearing a uniform? for example.
It might also be intangible clues, where customers might be looking for example at the knowledge levels or the level of empathy the staff member might have towards that particular customer.
And these clues, if you like, are often fed by prior expectations. So, customers often have a preconceived notion as to what that interaction is going to be like, and my work has started to try and unpick some of that prior expectation. So, again, the point I'm trying to make is that those service encounters in store don't operate in a vacuum. Next slide please.
Retail staff commitment
Mixed method study of 3 leading UK retailers, 1,000 questionnaires, 60 interviews with store staff in 31 stores in the East Midlands - ERDF funding
Improving retail store staff commitment improves the retail experience
Dedication levels, knowledge & experience – aspects of the service encounter enhanced by commitment
Employee loyalty in retailing is multi-faceted and can be understood in relation to commitment to the retailing industry, the retailer and the store
So if we start to look at the themes of my research over my career, one of the areas that I've looked at is the role of staff, and this particular study which was done with Lynette Harris and Paul Weissel, and was funded by the European Regional Development Fund was a large study looking at three leading UK retailers and involving 31 stores in the East Midlands. And this particular study was looking at the career progression of retail staff.
And we interviewed around 60 store staff and issued questionnaires to a thousand staff members, and as part of this big study one thing that we looked at was how committed those store staff were to the organization. Because there is the notion that if store staff are more committed, they're more likely to give a better level of service.
They're more likely to be dedicated, they're more likely to be positive about the retailer and pass that knowledge on to the customer. And what we found was, in this study, that in retailing that level of loyalty is actually multifaceted. It's got a number of layers which makes it quite interesting. So, we found that staff could be potentially loyal to the industry, to retailing, to the retailer, the organization, but also to the store. Next slide please.
Loyalty to the local store
Women more loyal to the store than men – stronger connection to the store than the retailer – 55% of all women hoped to be at the store for a long time
Reliance on public transport & childcare responsibilities meant they had to be nearby to the store
Women experienced intrinsic rewards as a result of close bonds with their customers, colleagues & local managers
Sense of community at the local level amongst female staff, including part-time
Store loyalty not recognised by the retailers – in order to progress assumption was to move stores
What we found which was really interesting was that staff members, particularly women, had a real strong sense of loyalty to that local store in which they worked, and that was more so the case
than for men, and those women had a very strong connection to that store. So, one indication of that was we found that 55% of all the women that we surveyed hoped to work at that store rather than the retailer for a long time, and there were a number of reasons for this. So, that loyalty stems from the fact that they relied on public transport to get to the store, so they had to live nearby,
they also had child care responsibilities which meant again they had to be close to the store, but interestingly the women experienced really strong intrinsic sort of personal rewards as a result of the close bonds they developed with the customers in the community, the colleagues they worked with and the local managers. That sense of community at the local level was more apparent for female staff, and that was irrelevant of whether they worked full-time or part-time.
So, we can see that this real sense of loyalty at the store level and the staff members were really proud of the fact that they could interact with the community. But what was interesting was that that loyalty was not necessarily recognized by the retailers. So, in order to progress for example, some of the retailers had the policy that individuals had to move stores so that local loyalty was not recognized always. Next slide, please.
‘I used to come to this store and thought what a nice, friendly place it was. Now I work here that is so important to me. I would like to progress but at this store where I know everyone’
‘I could only take the job because my mum collects my son from school three days a week’
‘He [my husband] works just across the road so we look after the childcare between us plus I’ve got my mum only two doors down from me ... I couldn’t have stayed in this job without them’
So, what we have here are just some examples of what people told us as part of that particular study. So, these are taken from the female staff working in the stores: so, the first example talks about how 'I used to come to this store and thought what a nice, friendly place it was, now I work here. That's so important to me. I'd like to progress but at this store where I know everyone.'
And then the other two quotes talk about how working at the store is made more easy because it's local to them, so the second quote talks about 'I could only take the job because my mum collects my son from school three days a week and he, my husband, works just across the road, so we look after the child between us. Plus, I've got mum two doors down. I couldn't have stayed at this job without them.'
So again, you can see that despite these national retailers having hundreds of stores, that sense of community was really apparent at the local level. Next slide, please.
This slide shows a handwritten sign taped to a shop door. The sign reads:
'Customer notice On behalf of the team here at the Boston store, we would like to say a massive thank you to all our loyal customers who shopped with is over 34 years, the team here have over 160 years of service between us!
Thank you for the memories. Stay safe and shop local! Love from all of us here at D.P's xxxx'
So, if we bring that theme and that research really up to date, this particular notice was taken from Lincolnshire Live and relates to a Boston store of Dorothy Perkins, which you probably are aware is a women's wear retailer in the UK that's recently closed because of the pandemic and the decline in the high street. But what you can see from this quote is this real sense of community again, and that's the reason I wanted to show you this post.
What comes out of this is that real sense of loyalty to the staff and the customers, so they talk about thanking 'all our loyal customers who've shopped with us for over 34 years, and the team here have over 160 years’ service between us', so what's coming through is that there's a real sense of community with that particular store rather than the retailer, and it's a very personal note that the community would have seen, and the fact that they refer to things like memories, so they say at the end 'thank you for the memories' suggests that the store, the staff, the customers were viewed really warmly, and strong relationships had been established.
So, I think all of this theme shows that there is a sense of commitment at the store level by staff rather than the retailer and that sense of community is seen through the personal relationships that staff members have made with customers and their colleagues. Next slide please.
The retailer’s dilemma - adaptation is key
Qualitative study of four flagship stores (60 interviews) in well-known high street retailer
Retailer known for highly-trained staff & a focus on customer service
Products sold meant that interactions were required
Staff believed personal interactions were important
‘We have a relationship with certain customers’ ‘We have time for our customers’ ‘The customer needs to know you are interested in them’
The next theme I want to look at is this idea of adapting that service-level in-store, according to the community needs. So, this particular study was looking at a national retailer again, and at four flagship stores we did interviews with customers and staff members, and this was a well-known high street retailer and they were known for their highly trained staff and they had a real focus on customer service, and that became one of their unique selling points.
Added to that, the products sold meant that interactions were required, so a lot of the products that were in store needed explanation, or they were expensive, so there was quite high involvement on behalf of the customer when they went into the store to ask about the products.
And what we found was that the staff really believed that those personal interactions with the community, with their customers, were important, and they talked about establishing relationships, friendships with those local customers, and you can see that there's some quotes taken from those staff members; so 'we have a relationship with certain customers', 'we have time for our customers', 'the customer needs to know that you're interested in them'.
So, they seem to have a genuine interest in the community that they're serving, and it seems to be something that they were proud of. Next slide.
The retailer’s dilemma - adaptation is key
Customers had long-held opinions of the store (rather than the retailer) & had shopped at the specific store all of their lives, despite being part of a national chain
BUT not all customers valued the attentive service, favouring more utilitarian aspects: ‘People shop here because their mum & gran shop here…’ ‘I want to get in and out of the shop quickly’
Presents an interesting dilemma for retailers, particularly those with a diverse product mix
So, we asked similar questions to customers and they on the whole reflected similar opinions; so, a lot of the customers had very long-held opinions of the store rather than the retailer and they'd had shopped at that specific store all of their lives despite that store being part of a national chain.
So, there's a nice quote here from somebody saying 'people shop here because their mum and their gran shop here', so they developed almost a heritage-association with that particular store and a family-association, so this level of trust had been built up over the years with that particular store amongst, in this case, a particular family and the wider community.
However, what was interesting was that not all customers valued that attentive service and those personal relationships that were being developed, and that was particularly true for products that had more utilitarian aspects, so products that needed less explanation, and they were probably quite practical products and as this quote illustrates one customer talks about 'I want to get in and out of the shop quickly', so all of this presents an interesting dilemma for this particular retailer.
So, despite their unique selling point being around attentive service, creating relationships with the community and the customers, not all customers liked it. So, there has to be potentially a careful balance between the kind of practical needs of the customer, but also that attentive relationship building between staff members and the customers, so that suggests that some adaptation is potentially required, particularly when a retailer sells a range of products that kind of span the really high involved products through to those that are more practical and require less explanation. Next slide, please.
Mirroring and Matching
Study to explore the role staff appearance & visible diversity has on the service encounter
Extent to which appearance gives an indication of service quality
Customer-facing staff who reflect the visible diversity of the community they serve can provide a competitive advantage
60 interviews & 6 focus groups with store employees and customers in a well-known personal care retailer & a national DIY chain
High involvement, expensive products
So, moving on to another theme of my work that's also related to the sense of community in the retail context, this idea is about mirroring and matching, and these studies were looking at the role staff appearance and their visible diversity had on the service encounter.
So, it was looking at the extent to which the appearance of staff could give customers an indication of service quality, so for these studies we focus particularly on gender and age of staff and how that influences perceptions of that service encounter in store. And the reason we focused on age and gender was because, as I mentioned earlier, retailers do employ lots of women, and the latest figures suggest that 58% of all retail staff are female, and for some retailers that's even higher.
So, prior to closing, 77% of all store staff in Debenhams were female and 84% of staff in the Arcadia Group were also female. And in terms of age, it's important to look at age because retailing typically employs lots of young staff, so 18 to 24-year olds, and more so than any other sectors like healthcare, so that's the reason why we focused on age and gender.
And there's also an argument that customer-facing staff who reflect the diversity of the community that they serve can provide a competitive advantage, although that view has been critiqued over the years, but there has been some wider work around the notion of aesthetic labour which is quite interesting and this is the idea that staff were employed to reflect the retail or the hospitality brand, so for example, a hotel for example might employ stylish staff or staff that appear quite stylish to reflect the brand of the hotel, if that's quite a trendy hotel for example. But that work hasn't really looked at how customers view it, it's focused more on what the organization is doing.
So this particular study that I'm talking about here that focuses on age and gender involved doing lots of interviews and focus groups with store staff and customers, and that was done in a well-known personal care retailer and a national DIY chain in the UK, and the reason that they were chosen was that again they had products that had high involvement, so it meant often customers would need to come into the store and they would need to interact with staff members to learn more about the products, and often those products were quite expensive so it was a potentially high-involvement purchase. Next slide, please.
Mirroring – customers approach staff who ‘mirror’ their own age & gender
Matching – assumptions about what sales staff should look like – appearance as an indicator of knowledge
Positive and negative implications
Some evidence retailers were attempting to challenge these assumptions held by customers but how the store reflects the local community does appear to have a role in perceptions of the retail service encounter
So, based on our analysis, what we found were two interesting ideas; the first one is that customers, when they went into store and they were looking for help, had a tendency to approach staff who looked like themselves, so who mirrored their own age and gender. And because there was an assumption that they would have shared attitudes and a natural affiliation, so we had examples of young female customers looking for similar staff members when they were looking for advice on beauty and cosmetics.
We also found that customers did make assumptions about what sales staff should look like, if they had the required knowledge about that particular product, so the age and the gender of the staff member could act as an indicator of knowledge to the customers.
And so for example there was an assumption that older members of staff would know more about the products than younger staff, and clearly, those ideas of mirroring and matching had positive and negative implications, so on the one hand, if that store was able to reflect the community that they served in terms of things like age and gender then higher levels of trust could be established between the customer and staff members, but equally, it's clear that the customers, some customers, did have stereotypical assumptions about staff knowledge based on their age and gender, and there was some evidence that the retailers were trying to challenge these assumptions held by the customers.
So, there were examples of where they launched targeted campaigns and events to promote for example, women's role in home improvement, but nevertheless, the local community and the makeup of the local community does appear to have a role in the perceptions of the retail service encounter. Next slide, please.
‘From what I’ve observed, customers tend to go like-for-like ... so for your gender and your age, you find someone who is the same. So you can communicate on the same level’
‘I want to speak to someone like me’
So if we just quickly look at some evidence here; so, in terms of the mirroring idea, the notion that customers go into the store and try and seek out people that are similar to themselves, and you can see from these quotes, so the last quote on there is very simple, with a customer saying 'I want to speak to someone like me', and the top quote talks about - this is actually a staff member - saying 'From what I've observed, customers tend to go like-for-like'. So, for your age and your gender you find someone who's the same so you can communicate on the same level. Next slide, please.
‘When I was setting up home for the first time, my dad used to do a lot of DIY stuff with me. I used to go into a DIY shop for help and I used to pick somebody similar to my Dad. You know, his age, because I assumed they’d have done DIY’
‘Probably go for someone a bit older as you would think they would be more knowledgeable about things. A bit more authority about what they are talking about’
‘I had one male customer last week and he wanted some ceiling tiles. And I said “we don’t sell them but we sell these polystyrene ones instead”. But he wouldn’t have it from me. Fred had to come and he said exactly the same thing to him and said “that’s just what Sarah’s just said to you”. But he wouldn’t accept it from me, the customer had to accept it from Fred.’
‘...like with make-up. I suppose I’m stereotyping but make-up or ladies’ things or sizes of swimming costumes ... You wouldn’t ask a man that would you?’
And if we look at the idea of matching, so that was the idea that customers came into the store and they had assumptions around what a staff member should look like if they have the required knowledge about that particular product, and we can see some quotes here from customers and staff members, so the very top quote, and you can see the age was coming through here, so this customer talks about 'When I was setting up home for the first time, my Dad used to do a lot of DIY stuff with me. I used to go into a DIY shop for help and I used to pick somebody similar to my Dad you know, his age, because I assumed they'd have done DIY.'
And then the next quote down, this similar kind of thing where age comes into play, so 'I'd probably go for someone a bit older, as you'd think they'd be more knowledgeable about things, a bit more authority about what they're talking about.'
And if we move on to the bottom two quotes we can see that gender is playing a role here, and in the left-hand side quote this is actually an illustration of where a female member of staff is overlooked by a customer, so she explains that 'I had one male customer last week and he wanted some ceiling tiles and I said we don't sell them, but we sell these polystyrene ones instead. But he wouldn't have it from me. Fred had to come, and he said exactly the same thing to him, and said that's just what Sarah just said to you. But he wouldn't accept it from me. The customer had to accept it from Fred'.
And similarly, the last quote, again this is taken from a customer and interestingly, in this particular quote we can see that the customer is admitting to stereotyping, so she says 'Like with makeup - I suppose I'm stereotyping - but makeup or ladies' things, or size of swimming costumes, you wouldn't ask a man that, would you?' So, I think all of this is again showing that the retail context and the extent to which the staff reflect the community they serve and customers preconceptions of what staff should look like, has an influence on that retail experience in-store and within the community. Next slide, please.
Community based pop-up retailing
Pop-ups – temporary, used to test the market, stimulate demand
Independent pop-ups embedded in the local community can act as a source of regeneration and value creation
Qualitative study, part funded by the Academy of Marketing, in areas where pop-up space had successfully been introduced to help regenerate areas
Explored the inter-organisational relationships the pop-up has with other supply-side stakeholders can also be a source of value co-creation for the pop-up and the wider community
Value creating networks improved the pop-up offering
If the pop-up was embedded in the local community they were more likely to be successful than a stand-alone entity
Customers valued the pop-up ‘experience’
So, the last strand of research that I want to talk about is slightly different. It's still related to this idea of community retail but is looking at independent retailers. So, the previous studies I've talked about have been based on national chains in the UK, this particular study was looking at pop-up retailing.
So pop-up retailing is temporary retailing, it is used by national retailers, but this particular study was focused more on independent retailers. And the idea is that these retailers, these pop-ups, occupy temporary retail space, and it's often used to test the market to see what demand and there is for this kind of retailing, but it's also a way of trying to regenerate empty shops, the local community and so on, and trying to create a more unique retail experience for customers.
So, pop-ups tend to sell things like craft products, food, clothing, jewellery, home goods and so on, and often those products are locally made and made and sourced by the owner.
This study was undertaken by myself, colleagues at Nottingham Trent University and also Professor Claire Brindley here at the University of Derby.
It was a qualitative study and it was part-funded by the Academy of Marketing, and what we did was we conducted a number of interviews with customers but also the pop-up owners themselves, and those people in the community that supported that wider pop-up offering, so shopping centre managers, council representatives, landlords and so on, and we did that in eight sites where there'd been, where they experienced quite a successful pop-up initiative, so that included the Bullring in Birmingham, what were the Intu centres in Nottingham and Derby, Walthamstow in London, and also Virgin trains which I mentioned right at the beginning.
At the time of the study the Virgin trains were running a really interesting initiative as part of their CSR policy where they wanted to support local businesses, but also create a better experience for their commuters. So, they launched an initiative where people could occupy pop-up space actually on the platforms to sell their products.
So as part of this study, we were looking at one side which was how customers view this pop-up experience; did it help to create a better community-based retail offering? But also, what were the sort of relationships those pop-ups had with other stakeholders within the wider retail community? And did that help them or support them? And in fact, we did find that that was the case. So, if that pop-up was embedded within the local community and had that wider support, they were more likely to be successful than a stand-alone entity. Next slide please.
This slide shows four photographs. Top left is a shop selling picture frames, with a customer looking at one of them.
Bottom left is a pop-up stall’s exterior with a sign above reading, ‘Lovely gift ideas from independent shops in the Upper Hall’ and another sign reading, ‘Take a sneaky little peak’.
To the right is the exterior to a shop called Design 44, and a smaller inset photo shows the range of homewares the shop is selling, from welcome signs and decorations, to mugs and pot plants.
So, what we have here are some illustrations of the pop-ups that were involved in the study, I'll explain these as I go along. We found that there were three types of pop-ups, so one category were pop-ups that existed within permanent retail units, so they'd occupied a short-term lease in a shopping centre, for example, and the top left illustration is an example of that.
That particular pop-up is in the Bullring shopping centre and it was in what we call dead space between the Birmingham train station and the Bullring shopping centre, and that particular walkway was full of empty units, so the Bullring launched an initiative where pop-ups could rent space for a short period, and that proved to be really successful, and that particular illustration there is of a pop-up retailer that actually had an online presence.
It was run by a local husband and wife team and they wanted to see whether they could create enough demand through a physical store. The next category found were pop-ups that occupied space in organizations that were trying to diversify their revenue stream, so quite unusual locations like pubs, libraries, and this is where the work with Virgin trains fits in.
So, as I mentioned earlier, they were trying to generate more interest in their train stations and that initiative with Virgin trains proved to be really successful.
So we had examples of one particular area where there was a local baker and at the end of the day if he had products left over he went down to the train station and sold them directly to the commuters through this pop-up initiative, so it created an additional revenue stream for him, but equally the customers really liked it, so we had examples of commuters coming off early in their journey so that they could actually buy products directly from this baker.
And then the third type of pop-ups we found were ones that were part of a collective or a cooperative, and this was where one person coordinates the activity on behalf of other pop-ups. So, the illustration there, Design 44 is a really nice example of this.
So, this particular pop-up retailer was originally in the Cathedral Quarter in Derby, and then they won a competition run by what was Intu in Derby to have some more permanent retail space within a shopping centre, and within that pop-up the owner showcases local talent, and the pop-ups rent space within that.
And that initiative works really well because often we found with pop-ups that the pop-up owners, because they make the products themselves, often they don't have the time to then operate a store, so this particular cooperative model works really well. Next slide, please.
This slide features three photographs. Top-left is a woman sat at a stall with bunting underneath spelling ‘Meredith Crafts’ selling cakes and jewellery. To her left is a large red sign saying ‘Virgin Trains Pop ups’
Bottom-left is a photograph of a number of shoppers in a pedestrianised street. A shop worker in an apron stands outside one of the shops.
The photo on the right shows a shop with a large sign reading, ‘Major London 05’. Various fashionable looking tops are hanging on the walls.
We've got some more illustrations here, so just quickly if you look at the picture on the right hand side that is taken again from the Bullring, and this was a woman who designed and made her own clothes and she'd never sold products in a physical retail space before, she'd done it online, and so she was testing the market for her clothing range.
The top left illustration just gives you an idea of the pop-up initiative run by Virgin trains, and the bottom left illustration is quite a nice example of where a collaborative initiative has worked really well to try and regenerate an area in Nottingham. So, this particular area was some disused space that was open to pop-ups, a cafe and exhibition space, and that proved to be really successful because it was a community-based experience. Next slide please.
‘Pop-ups tend to be very knowledgeable about certain areas but not every area. A lot of our team’s time is spent offering advice and coaching…because sometimes they haven’t opened a shop before and they certainly haven’t worked within a shopping centre.’
‘It really created quite a close network of businesses supporting each other and you know, I’ve established good friendships/business relationships based on that.’
‘There’s a tendency potentially to allow any old retailer to come in. I think standards need to be applied….in a shopping centre and a high street….there’s potential for it to become quite vulgar and just very discount based’
So if we look at some of the evidence from the interviews around how these pop-ups support the community and were supported by the community, what we've got here is some evidence taken from some of those interviews, so the very top quote and the very bottom quote are taken from shopping centre managers who'd used pop-ups as a way of trying to create more interest in their shopping centre.
And we can see from these two quotes that what was really apparent to them was that some of these pop-up owners didn't have the managerial skills to create a really compelling offer, so they'd worked with the pop-ups to try and improve that offer.
And so, you can see from that first quote they talk about 'A lot of our team's time is spent offering advice and coaching because sometimes they haven't opened a shop before and they certainly haven't worked within a shopping centre.'
And similarly, the bottom quote talks about improving standards: 'I think standards need to be applied in a shopping centre or a high street because there's a potential for it to become quite vulgar and discount-based otherwise.'
And the middle quote is taken from a pop-up owner who talks about how they'd gained lots of support from their network of businesses within the community, they talked about how they've 'established good friendships and business relationships' based on that, and actually what we found was that if those pop-ups were co-located then they could for example reduce risk because they could share bills and they could work together to secure maybe further funding, and so a lot of the value creation around these pop-ups in the community was around improving their managerial capabilities, and that was very much based on how embedded they were within that local community. Next slide, please.
A unique retail experience
An opportunity to co-create a memorable retail experience between the buyer and seller
A ‘learning experience’ for somewhere products are made with the customer
Value is created through the transfer of knowledge and specialised skills from the pop-up owner to the customer
Customers valued products that were not mass-produced but innovative, handmade, rare and personable – normally locally produced
Customers highly rated the opportunity to interact with others and often viewed pop-ups as a social platform, offering the means to freely engage in conversations
‘What I liked was that there’s an element of surprise it has that feeling of ‘oh, I may find a bargain, or I might find something unique’ because I don’t know what I’m going to see next’
And then if we focus more on the community experience for the customers, we can see that customers really valued that unique retail experience it created something a bit different than customers would normally experience on the high street and that memorable retail experience came from the products that were sold; often they were very unique, they were handmade, often locally produced, but also that interaction with the pop-up owner created what we call a learning experience, so the customer was able to learn from the pop-up owner in terms of the details about the product or even more and wider things about how the pop-up had come about, how the pop-up owner had supported the community and so on, and equally the pop-up owners could learn directly from the customers as well.
So, we had examples of customers saying, you know, the pop-up owner was able to adapt the product based on my needs, so they were able to produce a piece of jewellery to the exact needs that I talked about, so customers really highly rated this opportunity to interact with us with others and it also became a social platform.
So there was lots of storytelling going on between the pop-up owners and the customers, and customers really liked that and you can see at the bottom there there's a quote taken from one customer saying that they 'liked the element of surprise', it was that feeling of 'Oh I might find a bargain or I might find something unique because I don't know what I'm going to see next, so there was certainly a sense of a unique retail experience from this pop-up based initiative. Next slide, please.
The importance of methodology
Predominately qualitative studies exploring the lived experiences of retail staff and customers and their relationship with the community
Uncovering the subconscious attitudes and hidden meanings people hold is key
What people say and what they do may not necessarily be the same thing
Using hypothetical scenarios in interviews where responses compared to actual experiences
So, what I want to end with is just a note about methodology. So, all of the work that I've talked about there has been primarily based on qualitative research, and the reason for that is because I really think that qualitative research - so interviewing people speaking to customers and staff members directly - can offer some real insights about their experiences and start to unpick that relationship they have with the community and I think by using that methodology you can start to uncover some of those more subconscious attitudes and hidden meanings people hold, and I don't think that would necessarily come about if a more quantitative approach was adopted.
And what I found through doing this piece or these pieces of work is that when you interview people, what people say and what they do may not necessarily be the same thing, and I think it's really important to try and get underneath and start to explore what those subconscious attitudes and hidden meanings might be.
So, I've done that through the use of hypothetical scenarios, so when I've interviewed staff members for example, I presented them with scenarios around how they might deal with the different needs of the community, and ask them to respond to that scenario.
And then later on as part of the interview I then asked them to draw upon some real-life experiences around the same issue, and what I found is that what people say they're going to do and what they actually do may not necessarily be the same thing, so I think it's really important to try and unpick all of that.
And more recently I've been involved in some work with Dr Charles Hancock here at the University of Derby looking at ZMET interviews, so this is a particular interview technique which uses images to facilitate discussions, so the interviewees bring along pictures and that's a way of trying to uncover some of the subconscious meanings people might attach to things, and we have a PhD student here at Derby, Bowen, who's looking at some of those unconscious associations we might have, subconscious associations we might have with department stores, and she's using that as the methodology, and some of that work's also been funded by the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies. Next slide please.
The role of the community and place in which the retailer is embedded is extremely influential - a view often neglected but more prominence since the pandemic
Retailers who acknowledge the influence the ‘community’ has on the store are more likely to be in a stronger position during turbulent trading conditions
Co-creating a unique retail service experience with customers
Staff have a strong loyalty to the store community which has an impact on service
Trust between the store staff & customers occurs when the store reflects the community context
Retail chains need to consider the local level
Raises issues in terms of HR policies, merchandise, store location, service levels and wider town/high street initiatives
Managing diverse needs ‘easy to say, but difficult to do’
So, bringing all of this together, this work that I've done, and the role of the community on the retail experience, what kind of implications does this have for the industry?
Well, hopefully I've shown that I think that the role of the community and the place in which the retailer is embedded is really influential, and so that's something we really need to understand more, and it's a view that's often neglected, particularly by the larger retailers, and I think it's become even more prominent since the pandemic, as we move towards that sense of community and shopping locally, and I think retailers who acknowledge the influence the community has on the store and the retail experience are more likely to be in a stronger position during turbulent trading conditions - so that might not necessarily be the pandemic but it could be other turbulent trading conditions - and how do they do that?
Well, there're a number of suggestions here based on my work; so they could try to create a more unique retail experience with customers, so, for example, bringing in locally-sourced products, and really looking at that interaction between staff members and the community, and I think we have to look at how loyal staff can be to that particular store and the community it serves. I think that has a real impact on service, and I think there's trust, potentially, to be developed between the store staff and customers when that store does reflect the community context and the needs of the community.
And that suggests that the big retail chains in particular need to start to look at the local level, almost view their stores as entities in themselves, and I realize there're some issues with that, but I think that's the way that we're moving towards.
And all of this raises issues in terms of things like HR policies, and so my work has shown that there's a real sense of community at the store level and that suggests that staff members might talk about the store as a place to work within the community, and they might promote or not promote the store through word of mouth. It has implications for merchandising; so, as I said earlier, you know, to what extent should the store start to look at local, unique products?
It has implications for the store location. So, with the pop-up work, those pop-ups that were co-located tended to be more successful, and that obviously then has implications for things like wider community, town high street initiatives and also the service level, so to what extent should retailers adapt their service level depending on the kind of products that they sold, whether they're higher-involvement or low-involvement?
So, reflecting the community needs is important, but I think it has to be recognized that for large retailers that is potentially challenging, so dealing with diverse needs is perhaps easy to say, easy to talk about, but potentially quite difficult to do in practice. Next slide, please.
Important role of applied research in shaping retail and town centres
An active role in sharing knowledge with practitioners
Further work on the role of the community and its influence on retail
Exploring different ‘place’ contexts
Role of staff
Role of wider retail support groups
Unconscious perceptions of the service interaction held by customers
The impact the pandemic continues to have on retail in the community
Not necessarily decline but evolution
Retail change is the norm
So finally, where does this all leave us in terms of future research? So, I think that it's really important as academics that we share our research with practice, with industry, and I think we have a real role to play in shaping retail and town centres, and I think we have to interact with industry to understand what those challenges are and also share our knowledge with them. I think there's some more work to be done in terms of the role of the community and its influence on retail, so I think we could start to look at the different place context.
So, for example, how that particular local area influences the retail experience. I'm about to start some new work with my colleague Dr Kirk, looking at rural high streets and town centres and communities and how people identify with those areas, particularly since the pandemic.
And the initial focus of that work will be on Derbyshire because, partly because of where the university is situated, and we're in a really good position to do that kind of work. I think we need to do some more work around the role of staff because that's a view that's often neglected because the focus of retail tends to be on the customers and also wider retail support groups, so I've seen from my own experience working with, for example, Derby City Council and the Business Improvement District, that those organizations do have an influence on the retail offering.
And then I think we can do some more work around those unconscious perceptions that customers might have in terms of how they view that retail offer. And clearly, there is a real need to look at the impact the pandemic continues to have on retail in the community, and we'll see how that develops over the coming months, coming years, but what I would say is that although we're seeing lots of change in retail because of the pandemic, and the potential impact that's having on the high street, that is not necessarily decline.
Some people argue that that's actually evolution. So, some of the things that we're seeing now because of the pandemic were perhaps on the cards anyway, it's just that the pandemic has quickened that process, so we're in a situation where retailing is evolving and hopefully coming out the other side to something which is much more fit for purpose, and we have to understand that change is normal in retailing. It doesn't stand still for very long.
The slide shows the title once more, with white writing on a blue background and a red border.
So that concludes my presentation, and I'd like to thank everyone for listening.