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5 Aug 2021

The future of independent retail?

Covid has turned everything on its head.  It is shaping retail through seismic changes in commuting, effectively re-locating vast communities from early morning to early evening, and through the long-term reassessment of rents.  But this blog isn’t about Covid, though it does shape the beginning of my story.

In previous years I would often spend a couple of summer weeks somewhere with guaranteed sunshine, this summer I found myself in a drizzly British village. Having toured the village – 15 minutes – and eaten the obligatory tea and cake – 30 minutes – it was time to hit the bookshop.  An hour later, I left with five books and a distinct feeling that I’d seen the future of independent retail.

We all buy books on Amazon, yes?  It’s a commodity purchase – quick and cheap – if you know what you want, it’s the place to go.  And I like Waterstones, the physical presence of the books is great.  But does either work if you enter the shop - virtual or real - without a good idea of what you want?  And isn’t part of the pleasure of shopping to discover something new?

The key feature of this shop is this: it doesn’t have many books.  Perhaps 300-400? Compare that to Amazon or a branch of Waterstones!

But the shop is all about the books.  Each one had been selected by the staff, and most were stuffed with beautifully presented copies of reviews from the national press.

I worked my way through Fiction and picked two books I’d never heard of, and one I’d read before, now delighted to know that other readers loved it. I’m thrilled with them.

Two more books left the Reference shelves, in hindsight I confess that one may prove a little too highbrow, but hey, you never know.

Yes, this is curation, which is a familiar theme. But this is curation to the max. Delivering a service – the act of shopping - as well as product – the books.  It felt good. It felt like the future.

August 2021

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