Amazon’s Fringe Festival pop-up is no laughing matter

Amazon’s Fringe Festival pop-up is no laughing matter

By Patrick Clover, CEO and Founder, BLACKBX

Living in Edinburgh, you never quite get used to the scale of the Fringe Festival, when the city’s population doubles virtually overnight. Yet for all the big names and new acts greeted by my city this year, one name stood out to me as being a most unwelcome guest on our High Streets – Amazon.

Edinburgh is the latest city to play host to the e-commerce giant’s pop-up stores, as part of its continued efforts to support budding online retailers – or so it claims. While I have no doubt that free physical retail space during Edinburgh’s busiest time of the year will do wonders for any business, I’m extremely cynical of the notion that Amazon is helping anyone other than itself. It is no friend of the British High Street, and a couple of pop-up shops doesn't make it so. 

These stores have “marketing stunt” written all over them and they have done a great job distracting people from the negative headlines that have always surrounded the business and its impact on the High Street, not to mention its record on employee wellbeing and tax.

However, there may be more to these stores than meets the eye. They could also signal Amazon’s intent to dominate the physical retail space, just as it has e-commerce, with these sites acting as a unique trial run. If that’s the case, retailers need to act now before it eats their lunch once again.  

It leaves a sour taste when Amazon positions itself as the solution to bricks and mortar retail troubles. We shouldn’t ignore its role in creating these problems to begin with, nor how its move to the High Street will only add to retailers’ woes"

Amazon gets physical 

Amazon clearly believes that there is still a lot of money in bricks and mortar retail, which there is, and talk of the High Street’s demise is certainly overstated.

It has made no secret of its intentions to enter the High Street market, with its purchase of Whole Foods and its checkout-less shopping trials a rather ominous statement of intent. Few would bet against it given how it has transformed the online shopping experience, its vast riches of shopping/behavioural data and its superior technological knowhow.

However, it leaves a sour taste when Amazon positions itself as the solution to bricks and mortar retail troubles. We shouldn’t ignore its role in creating these problems to begin with, nor how its move to the High Street will only add to retailers’ woes.

Fighting back

For too long, physical retailers have been relying on old techniques and traditional approaches to solve very modern problems. The British High Street now needs to stand up and make sure that Amazon and other ‘digital disruptors’ don’t encroach further on their turf. It’s time these retailers fought fire with fire.

UK stores need better digital tools to compete with online retail and provide a more rewarding shopping experience. It’s vital that our shops start utilising the data at their disposal and stop prioritising quantity over quality.

Prior to GDPR, databases were usually overflowing with names and contact info, but they were invariably out of date and not fit for purpose. After all, what’s the point of an email database if the people on it don’t care about hearing from the brand, and if it can’t be used to create meaningful personalised campaigns? The answer is that it probably looked impressive at the time.

Thankfully, the introduction of the GDPR has cleared the deck for all retailers, both online and offline. As such, it’s a fantastic opportunity for bricks and mortar operations to rebuild their lists with people who genuinely want to hear from them.

In tandem, they should also be using this data to build highly targeted and personal campaigns – something e-commerce has been doing right since day one.

The likes of Amazon and Asos have made it their business model to be on people’s minds, in their inboxes and on their screens day after day, always providing new content and new deals. Physical stores now need to match them and use the same digital tools to do so.

If Amazon becomes a fixture of the British High Street for years to come, it will gain even more customer loyalty. Now is the time for retailers to be prioritising improving theirs, before the US company can make this move in earnest.

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