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  • Simon Blunt

Another one shouldn't bite the dust...

I was saddened this evening to read the news that Thornton’s has joined the long line of retailers who’ve decided to close the doors to all of their 61 stores for good. As always, this means more job losses, more missed customer opportunities, and another otherwise viable high-street business confined to the history books.

The saddest part of this story, as is the case with so many others like it recently, is that Thornton’s have “failed” because of the traditional and out-dated way of running retail stores, rather than what is possible both right now and in the future.

Thornton’s cited the impact of the Covid pandemic and the associated loss of sales during their key trading periods of Easter and Christmas. More positively, they’ve seen a 71% increase in their online sales. However, by being burdened with 61 stores, almost certainly all in traditional destination shopping locations, no doubt with long leases and high rents, the business model no longer made commercial sense for their retail estate as it was run.

Imagine how different this story could be if Thornton’s were a successful online business that were just starting to experiment with physical retail now – they are almost the perfect candidate for our Agile Retail proposition!

Firstly, they could “pop-up” around their key trading periods of Easter and Christmas, maximising the opportunity and satisfying their customer needs during these seasonal opportunities. We could help them secure short-term leases or pop-up spaces at a fraction of the cost of running stores for 12 months of the year. They could flex locations and geography-based on the situation at the time. Sure, the Easter opportunity in 2021 is probably not possible due to the current lockdown, but come Q4, maybe they’d need to be in traditional destination locations, or maybe consumers would still be staying local and a highly residential location would make more sense over the usual shopping centre favourites. They might find a location that performs better than expected and decide to stay longer or a location that just doesn’t work, but that’s OK, because with an effective, modular store build, they could easily pack up and move on, or quickly and easily install again ready for the next seasonal push.

Agile Retail would allow them to quickly train and deploy teams from our existing pool, optimising the staff costs for each location, limiting the recruitment timelines and fees, and not incurring any redundancy if and when the decision is made to close or move a location.

Supply chain is sorted, till systems are sorted, reporting and performance are sorted, back-office operations are sorted – they could simply plug into our existing retail operations, focus on their brand, their customers, and making the most of both the direct sales opportunity and the wider marketing and customer experience metrics which are all too often forgotten when it comes to reviewing the retail P&L.

I wish Thornton’s and all their teams affected by the decision to close their stores the very best, I’m just sorry that we weren’t there to help them find a profitable way to trade physically. Who knows, maybe we still can?

For anyone else reading this, retail has such a bright, commercially viable future and is a hive of opportunity for brands either currently playing or thinking about playing in the physical space. Just please don’t get caught following the traditional rule book, come and talk to iD about Agile Retail – The Future Of Stores.

Image by Nick Papakyriazis


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