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EDITORIAL What retailers can learn from a street in London

Streets of London: This Knightsbridge street is building a mobile revolution

Streets of London: This Knightsbridge street is building a mobile revolution

To many in mainstream retail, the exalted streets of Knightsbridge and their boutiques – not shops, dahling, these are boutiques, entry to which requires ringing a door bell – are a world away from what they do every day on the High Street. But one street should give all retailers pause for thought.

Beauchamp Place – pronounced Beach-ham, if you didn’t already know – is tucked behind Harrods and round the corner from The Natural History Museum. If you don’t look carefully when crossing the road, you run the risk of being run down by matt-black jeeps with blacked out windows, or something orange and pointy made in Italy.

But, look closely when safely on the pavement and you will see in some shop windows the WeChat Pay green tick symbol. For along this street several of the rarefied retailers have got together to create a WeChat clusterto attract their share of the growing number of high-spending Chinese tourists.

Visiting these doyens of a by-gone era – they all are neighbours of the once uber-glam San Lorenzo restaurant, host to the likes of Sinatra, Dianas Ross and Lady – it seems an unlikely place to discover such a change in retail mindset. Yet talking to the store owners who have embraced this new way of doing business, it is refreshing to see how often the words “experience”, “evolution” and ‘technology” come up.

These retailers not only understand that taking a payment using a payment mechanism that one, albeit high spending, demographic routinely use is good for business, but they also get that something like WeChat goes way beyond just making it easy to pay.

The beautiful thing about Beauchamp is that even these seemingly staid retailers fully get the tie up between social media, marketing, payment, follow up and recommendation.

All that I talked to said that the real benefit of being part of this WeChat cluster is that not only can they take the payments, but they all show up on WeChat when shoppers in nearby Harrods fire up the app to pay in that store.

In addition, it allows for those that do then shop to share their experience and bring in more shoppers and, for some, it can also lead to further sales from abroad when these shoppers get back to China.

This evolution of payments and social media is everywhere in retail and is one of the key pillars in revamping the in-store experience. Ecomm-platform Shopify gets it, adding this week the ability for its users to integrate SnapChat adsinto their marketing functions.

And it couldn’t come too soon. Results out this week from Sainsbury’s and Next show that, while there is some sunshine in the gloom, many retailers teeter on the edge right now.

Sainsbury’s has fared poorly recently, squeezed at both ends by low-end and convenience stores and by the likes of Waitrose at the other. It has also wasted a lot of time, money and effort on its failed merger with Asda.

It is in the process of re-imagining what it’s stores need to deliver – increasing the use of tech, but also opening stores up to other brands concessions (a curious move that rather takes them back into the realms of the department store, a model that seems to have failed for department stores).

It and many other retailers could well learn from the open-mindedness of the retailers of Beauchamp Place, all of whom have not only seen the opportunity, but have embraced it whole heartedly. It isn’t a matter of money – the WeChat Pay app is really cheap to install and run – it is a matter of mindset. If the world of Kensington and Chelsea can do it, so can every High Street across the land.

Image: InternetRetailing Media Services/Paul Skeldon

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