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Retail Insights

Papers From 8th International Conference Of The European Association For Education And Research In Consumer Distribution July 2004

Retail Insights by Professor John Fernie
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Welcome to this issue of Retail Insights. This special issue draws on a collection of papers presented at the 8th International Conference of the European Association for Education and Research in Consumer Distribution (EAERCD) in July 2004 and hosted by Tony Kent and his colleagues at the London College of Communication. The conference was attended by over 60 delegates from Europe, the Far East and Australia and, during the two days, 31 academic research papers were delivered. Topics ranged from a comparison of Russian and French hypermarkets (one of the largest Russian retail groups is called Bin) to online learning of fashion retailing. Over the two days guest speakers from WPP, SPL and Ogilvy and Mather debated the future of branding and the delegates were reminded of the realities of shopping with a guided tour of Canary Wharf’s shopping centres. The discussions revealed the evidence of common retail trends and the remarkable organic growth of retailing in Europe, in which new forms of consumption and distribution emerge, and subsequently converge or diverge, at an increasingly rapid pace.

The EAERCD 2004 conference’s objectives were to promote cross-disciplinary approaches to branded developments in retailing and distribution, to provide new insights into the scope of the branded environment and to present new research into teaching and learning. The opportunity to explore new methodologies for retail research seems appropriate in the context of experiential marketing concepts and its implications for retail brands and the store environment. Visual and cultural papers provided different, and valuable insights, into the retail environment. Conference visits to Selfridges and Canary Wharf demonstrated two contrasting senses of “place” and the dynamics of change in traditional and emerging shopping areas which were further developed by an industry-led panel discussion and the keynote presentation from WPP’s Maureen Johnson.

The UK has many different types of location, from small to large stores, traditional High Street shops to large superstores. Some places are already redefining themselves; bookshops often include a coffee shop, these and other “third places” provide space to meet and socialise. Cultural and other leisure centres create hybrid places of education, entertainment and commerce too. How they merge together to create opportunities for marketers, and in the most general sense, generate wealth, is an interesting challenge for researchers, and one to which this conference made a new and stimulating contribution.

In the first paper, Ruth Schmidt and Elke Pioch consider the threat that UK independent community pharmacies are under by supermarkets and multiples, brought on by the deregulation of this market. They consider ways in which the community pharmacists might complement, and therefore compete, in the marketplace against the major multiples. They question whether the pharmacies can afford to continue their focus on healthcare and neglect opportunities the retail side has to offer. Their research was with 12 pharmacies in the Greater Manchester region as well as a series of key informant interviews. They found marketing to take an unstructured, haphazard approach while the retail side of the business was regarded as an add-on or bonus. Pharmacists were focused on improving and maintaining the service they offer as therapeutic experts, although they acknowledged the need to be more retail focused. While the independent pharmacists regard their unique selling point as being a service provider with the service encounter between personnel and customers all important, Schmidt and Pioch argue that in order to compete in an unregulated market, these independent pharmacists need to embrace the need for greater image congruence and the marketing and branding opportunities at the retail level.

Barry Davies and Philippa Ward explore branding from a visual merchandising perspective applying a facet theoretical approach to visual merchandising and retail brand. They argue that the use of facet theory might provide retail academics a useful methodological tool and may be regarded as an alternative to factor analysis. It, they claim, lends a structured approach that guides the researcher’s thinking from beginning to end. They conclude that the application of facet theory can facilitate the integration of research in in-store physicality with the core general environmental psychology approaches.

Ste´phane Girod examines the concept of branding within the charity retail sector and attempts to draw the link between human resource practices and their interest for establishing charity retailers’ brands. He uses as his case study, Oxfam who were in terrible difficulties a few years ago. He shows how the introduction of a different human resource policy turned the organisation around and can strengthen a retailer’s brand, thus providing a source of competitive advantage. The turnaround, he claimed, was owing to the construction of a new managerial vision, a redirecting of culture and aligning the new internal substance with Oxfam’s image and expectations from its consumers. Interestingly, with regard to shop managers, Girod found that the company instigated a view of relying on local initiatives and adopting the assumption that local shop managers knew best. This is interesting as it complements the research by myself and Liz Parsons, although we found that many of the charity retailers were attempting to standardise the approaches used by individual branches so that a uniform image was portrayed by the charity. Girod closes his paper by considering how Oxfam’s best practices might be transferred to the “for-profit” sector and argues that commercial retailers might be able to benefit from such best practice exchanges in the charity sector. He also claims that charity retailers need to build a retail branding strategy that is probably distinct from their corporate brand.

Stephen Wigley, Christopher Moore and Grete Birtwistle’s paper on product and brand used a qualitative methodology to explore the factors that are crucial to international fashion retailer success and evaluate how internationalisation could be controlled efficiently by a firm. Two designer fashion retailers were selected for study. Both were similar in some respects yet one had had a positive international experience while the other had had a negative one. They found that brand management, product development and differentiation were particularly important to international fashion retailers.

Previously published in: Library Hi-Tech, Volume: 33, Number 7, 2005

Emerald Publishing Limited; Read online
Title: Retail Insights
Author: Professor John Fernie

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