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Retail's Micro Scope

Holiday season often provides an opportunity to open our eyes and mind to new and unfamiliar experiences. For many of us, taking time out also helps us to refocus on the things that we typically overlook, or take for granted.


Retail's Micro Scope

My recent business travels have taken me to cities on several continents. Separated by thousands of miles, I have visited a mix of both the modern and the developing but each has made me acutely aware of the importance of small street vendors. Whether in Morocco or Mexico, the streets are full of local, authentic life. Visceral and inspiring, they have reaffirmed to me the power of ‘experiential’.

Along the Medina’s dusty lanes in Marrakech, you can stumble upon many hidden treasures on the stalls selling regional specialities like rugs, hand-thrown pottery, decorative metalwork, lighting and souvenirs. In Mexico City, the street food and flowers stand out and such products are vital for the micro-economy and local community – from the stall owner, to the farmer, baker and delivery driver.

In both the cities, and many others around the world, there are plenty of highly competent independent traders that set up, sell from, and pack away their shops each night. It may be shopping in its simplest form but let’s not forget that in order to be successful they don’t just need to be good – they need to be great. This is how they make their livelihood, so getting it right matters. Many have excellent display, service and showmanship skills and, despite it being an area of retail that is often overlooked, I have always had a huge amount of admiration for market traders.

Alongside the fierce competition from other market traders, they also have to compete with the big brands that might be perceived as the ‘safe’ purchase. Success for stall retailers takes real graft. To become and remain successful they need to source great product, sell at a competitive price and offer a retail experience that gets customers smiling and spending, time and again. For me, there is no better example of the commercial desire to make happy customers buy more.

The time I spent in Africa and South America has reinforced my belief that there are still plenty of lessons that can be learnt by going back to, or least looking at, the basics. It’s important to recognise the value that exists in these market stalls for anyone who is intent on improving their own retail experience. One of the reasons Marrakech attracts so many tourists is down to the fact that it taps into our sense of exploration and discovery. By looking at these street vendors, mainstream retailers could inject a greater sense of freedom into the physical instore experience.

So, if you’re fortunate enough to visit Marrakech, Mexico City or any other destination this summer, make sure you take time to explore these vibrant retail spaces. They serve as an important reminder that positive shopping experience doesn’t just happen in malls and high streets streets. In fact, there are some outstanding examples of best retail practice in even the smallest and most unlikely of places.

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