From Burberry to Brick Lane

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been drinking from the fire hose of retail – touring five world cities, listening to dozens of retail experts, visiting hundreds of stores, and taking thousands of photographs – as part of the annual Westfield World Retail Study Tour.

Recovering from all that intense retail stimulation, I reflected that great retail comes in many shapes and forms.

The one common factor is that it is defined by the size of your imagination, not your budget.At one end of the spectrum is the Burberry store on Regent St in London: 2500sqm of gob-smacking gorgeousness.

Housed in a circa 1820 building restored by master craftspeople and then fitted out with acres of marble, 100 digital screens, and 500 speakers; this is a seriously impressive retail experience.

Breathtaking both in vision and execution, the Burberry store would have (just quietly) cost a bob or two.

But it’s probably earned its keep already just in the buzz created.

Equally exciting to me, however, was the fascinating retail I experienced in markets in various cities:London’s Borough Market, Columbia Road Flower Market, Spitalfields Markets, and Brick Lane, as well as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. It’s walking through markets – the traditional antithesis to Burberry’s luxe store – that you see retail reduced to its essence with unique merchandise and passionate traders jostling side by side.

At Borough Market, I witnessed a case study in great retail. After following a queue that snaked around a corner,I came across a gourmet baguette merchant selling up a storm.

The air was filled with the scent of sizzling sausages and felt alive with banter.Prime produce was proudly on display.

The brand language was engaging:“award-winning sausages”, “the hangover cure”, and “handmade with a lot of TLC”.

And the customers were buying into it big time.

Right next door to the baguette merchant was a lonely bloke at a card table who was trying to flog “proper hot food”. No engagement. No theatre.No snappy signs. And, sadly, no customers.

At Columbia Road Flower Markets, I caught a cheeky flower-seller spruiking the special nature of his blooms.

“Grown on me grandfather’s allotment, they were,” he said, adding under his breath, “and if you believe that, thenI’ve got a bridge to sell you”.

On Brick Lane, I saw a delightfully unpretentious caravan signposted with “Northern Soul Kitchen & RecordShop” that specialised in vinyl from the late 60s.

I also loved “The Frenchie”, run by a bearded Parisian, where you could buy three sizes of genuine gourmet French toasties; Petit, Moyen (regular), or the EiffelTower.And in the Grand Bazaar, I watched as merchants of every kind ran through a ritual that has been repeated for 700years.

They prepared their stalls and stores immaculately, set up their VM perfectly, stocked up their sample trays, and then got out there and sold their socks off.

Actually, when you think about it, those are some of the keys to all great retail, whether you are Burberry or at the Grand Bazar.

When he’s not on the road visiting stores, Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency, IdeaWorks(, and chairman of Inside Retail’s publisher, Octomedia. Email: Twitter: @thetweetailer

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