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Piccadilly is an upmarket part of London. There you will find Fortnum and Mason, the Royal Academy and the Ritz Hotel. You will also find two pieces of retail history that remind us of how European shopping once looked.
These are shopping arcades, which came before the shopping gallery and the more modern shopping mall. The Burlington Arcade is said to be the forerunner to those to be found today in Milan and Brussels. Customers could shop regardless of the weather and be free of the danger and filth that lurked in the roads outside.
Burlington originally had 72 stores and the Piccadilly Arcade across the road another 40 so there was plenty to see. It is no surprise that these stores continue to offer traditional quality and style. Watches and jewellery of course, but also leather gloves, clothing and footwear, umbrellas, hats and a lot of leather goods; and one shop specialising in bespoke leather watch straps.
Personal service from well informed staff is the norm and it all feels like the service they try to duplicate in an Apple store, albeit Apple have to adapt for big numbers.
Why, how and where do consumers buy things?
I was looking at the leather items in one store a middle-aged gentleman came in carrying a traditional box brief case - I suppose it is properly called an attaché case. Observing such situations is what all marketers must do. Why, how and where do consumers buy things, how do they use them and what decides the end of life of an article? Often standing quietly in a store is the best technique.
This gentleman was a dentist and he had bought this case between thirty and forty years ago, more likely the latter, he thought, as that matched the age of his eldest son. It had been repaired once before and just needed some stitching to be redone. It had been well used but the briefcase had gained character more than anything in that time. It was not an article that “wore out”.
The assistant advised him he would have it back in a week. He left delighted.
We enter these arcades thinking that you can only spend large amounts of money; but shop after shop is as much about repair and longevity as about selling. All the shoes sold can, and most will, have replacement soles put on in due course. All the leather goods can be repaired and most will last for decades as this one clearly has, and still look good. Even the bespoke watch strap will last a long time and keeps a watch in continuous use, making the watch feel new each time the strap is replaced.
Traditional quality makes sense when it offers leather items that last and last and can be repaired when needed. Tell that to Apple when the battery runs out on your iphone.
16th November 2016
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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