Brian Walker

Humanity’s legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. All wisdom is in our stories and songs. A story is how we construct our experiences. At the very simplest, it can be: ‘He/she was born, lived, died.’ Probably that is the template of our stories – a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is in our minds.

– Doris Lessing

Let me share a story.

Recently, I commented on the growth of divides in consumers’ shopping habits, or to be more precise, the distinction between consumers buying product predicated upon speed, scale, convenience, price, range, fulfilment and increasingly data and predictive analytics.

This is the very heartland of online retail or to be more distinctive, that of Amazon or Alibaba, who are muscled up on global retail steroids.

The science of retail if you like, although with motivations that lie far beyond buying and selling products.

Perhaps five years ago, save the comment on data, and I might have been referring to discount department store retailing to which the above still applies.

However now they also seek to constantly drive their relevance in an increasingly crowded marketplace, with physical buying warehouses caught in the divide.

And out of this disruption, change, innovation or whatever you care to label it, comes the noble art of shopping on the other side of the divide, something that luxury and premium retail has understood since Guccio Gucci served his first customer.

These retailers use the human emotion of attraction, weaved into aspiration, lust, desire, want, expressed as theatre, innovation of brand and product, the passion of brilliant service and the story that creates ‘retail tribes’.

Beyond the bland

As a segue way, I see that the new David Jones Australia flagship strategy appears to be navigating the helm of the fleet into these waters once again, and these are the only possible waters to attract shoppers as distinct from buyers.

Sounds pretty simple in its delineation doesn’t it? Yet many retailers appear to confuse the two, between commoditisation and customisation is the slippery slope to blandness.

Having over 150 square metres of racks and products, competing on price and not the human emotion of shopping, is essentially buying with steep overheads.

Human brains are wired for stories. But what is a story?

Mark Twain’s first rule of writing was “that a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.”

Stories connect events and create meaning; they also connect people to each other. “Stories make community; make one feel they belong to something,” wrote novelist Leslie Marmon Silko.

Now I am the last person to provide a lesson in literature, however what does a story look like in retail terminology?

It’s essentially the central part of a retailer’s brand DNA expressed emotionally, across the physical touchpoints, most notably the in-store experience. It is, depending upon the category, the passion of style, romance, fitness, ‘coolness’, whether it’s athleisure or fine jewellery.

First published InsideRetail on July 5 2018.