Flooring The Consumer on Simple Marketing Now

Please visit Flooring The Consumer's new home on SimpleMarketingNow.com where you can subscribe to receive updates to blog articles in real time!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Authenticity At Retail

Istambul Grand Bazaar originally uploaded by karusel.
Do you follow Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations [and the wiki]? It's a fascinating glimpse into foreignness - foreign lands, cultures and foods - from New Jersey to Korea via Brazil and everywhere in between.

I love how real and authentic a perspective Tony shares with his viewers - none of it rehearsed. In fact, some of it can be uncomfortably foreign. Yet, he experiences it without letting any personal biases interfere. This is not a genteel cookie-cutter view on travel or food, but rather a celebration of what makes places truly unique, memorable and buzz-worthy.

Do you remember when shopping had a sense of adventure and uniqueness to it? When the stores or restaurants you encountered in Decatur, Alabama had nothing to do with what you might encounter in Paramus, New Jersey? When you looked forward to bagels or cheesecake available only in New York City? And barbecue unique to Memphis?

And now, where ever you go, you find the same Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch and Applebee's.

In some cases, encountering the same captures comfort. I count on the consistency of my Starbucks venti non-fat latte. It's not the same elsewhere. And the Starbucks vibe, with unexpected tunes, both soothes and energizes.

Anthropologie I count on for being consistently different and magical wherever I go. In fact, it's a delight to discover how each store differs from location to location.

But, most other places leave me bored and unimpressed. Who needs them unless perhaps for commodity replenishment? They do nothing to help anchor a sense of Place and explain why I have trouble remembering many cities and airports I've been to.

So how might we recapture that buzz-worthy uniqueness?

Old Istanbul on the fringes of the Grand Bazaar by Rick Steves describes the first mall ever built. Can you imagine? "...It still has virtually tourist-free nooks and crannies that offer an insightful glimpse into the real Istanbul."

I love the glimpse into how this shopping mecca came to be:

"In its day, this was the "world trade center" for the entire Ottoman Empire -- locked down and guarded by more than a hundred soldiers every night. The Grand Bazaar remained Turkey's commercial hub through the 1950s, its 4,000 shops bursting with both practical and exotic wares.

But then the Grand Bazaar was discovered by travelers seeking the ultimate "Oriental market" experience. Prodded by shopaholic tourists with fat wallets, prices and rents skyrocketed, and soon small shopkeepers and manufacturers were shoved to the fringes of the market, crowded out by souvenir and carpet shops."

Interestingly, the Bazaar organized itself around like products [something I've also observed in Tokyo]. So you would have the hatmaker's street filled with hatmakers. What seems to make the Bazaar particularly unique and authentic is its mix of shops and workshops located side-by-side, something that may soon be gone forever. Says Steves: "Without both shops and workshops, the Grand Bazaar will eventually become a shopping mall only for tourists."

Think about that... I shun places just for tourists when I travel. Why? Because that's not where I find the authentic stuff. I don't want the same old t-shirts.... think parts of Duval Street in Key West, where the cruise ship folks shop. Ugh. [I just found this cool site with live web cams on Duval Street!]

But, that's a challenge we increasingly face as we become over-retailed.

Anchors away as malls take a dive. Lifestyle-Focused, Open-Air Shopping Formats Are Replacing Enclosed Retail Centers by Karla Ward addresses the shift from malls to lifestyle centers and places where people want to do more than just shop; they want to spend leisure time. I've touched on lifestyle centers. This example fascinates as it's not about a brand new lifestyle center, but rather a traditional mall trying to reinvent itself.

This statement caught my attention: "... malls that lose a department store anchor will replace it with a big box retailer such as Best Buy... mall owners appreciate that model because they are able to charge more rent from the big boxes." That made me think of Istanbul and the transition underway in the Grand Bazaar. Does the reliance on big boxes create too much uniformity and not enough connection to a unique place? Or can big boxes figure out how to customize to meet the needs of unique locations and blend in with specialty stores that offer authentic experiences?

One big box retailer that seems to have come up with a solution is Costco. Retail Marketer Of The Year: Costco by Sarah Mahoney from 1/2/2008 describes what makes Costco unusual: "it's a brand that built its reputation by word-of-mouth." The Costco 'mystique' consists of "a kind of 'treasure hunt' atmosphere for shoppers, where consumers can stumble upon anything from chic diamond earrings to a great deal on a laptop to a five-year supply of Cheerios" [or grand pianos and caskets...] all in a no-frills 'industrial warehouse' environment.

I can almost picture Costco as the modern day embodiment of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar: great deals, somewhat gritty backdrop, filled with adventure and unexpected finds. Certainly authentic in its focus on delivering to customers [members] an authentic Costco experience.

[BTW, isn't it interesting that Target's yearly home decor extravaganza is called Global Bazaar?]

So, how do we bring more of that to our retail landscape?

Technorati Tags: Del.icio.us Tags:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...