Retail endured a tough 2022. Established players such as M&Co and Made.com went into administration and over 17,000 stores closed down – the highest figure for five years.
The situation hasn’t brightened. Footfall across retail destinations fell by 2.8% in March, compared to the 9.4% increase in January and February. Brands’ fight for eyeballs is hotting up – and heritage brands aren’t exempt from this slugfest, writes Katie Walmsley, Creative Director of Technology & Experience at Household.
Fortnum & Mason is retail royalty. The self-styled ‘world’s most famous cornershop’ has operated out of the same headquarters for more than three centuries, curating a reputation as the grocer for the social elite. Yet, for all its longevity, it has been forced to adapt to a shifting landscape. The retailer is revamping its flagship Piccadilly store and installing a ‘creative hub’ featuring cooking demonstrations by international chefs and a gin distillery.
This bold move reflects a changing retail narrative. Simply selling products is no longer enough. Especially if you want to engage Gen-Z. Brands of all shapes and sizes are breaking away from tradition and using immersive, innovative experiences to foster a devoted fanbase.
Stay true to your roots…
Fortnum’s is on a well-trodden path – they are far from the first retail establishment diversifying to become more accessible to younger customers.
Flannels, for example, – the British multi-brand retailer – is transforming its flagship store on Oxford Street. Products will play second-fiddle behind a blended entertainment and shopping experience, with rapper Kano and artist Slawn being the hook to younger demographics.
For Fortnum’s developing a ‘creative hub’ is a step in the right direction and identifying food and beverages as a shared passion that can be enjoyed by existing, new and future fans of the brand is right. But it is the label ‘creative hub’ that misses the mark.
The brand’s equity stems from the craft and quality that has been ingrained in audiences over 316 years of high-end trading. No one expects Fortnum’s to become the leader in creative food – Noma and Chef’s Table already fill this gap in the market. Domestic and tourist fans will continue to expect to experience a connection to premium, traditional, British produce.
This starts by immersing younger generations in the ‘Fortnum’s way of food’ using an experience that goes beyond a conventional shopping space. The challenge for Fortnum’s is that its royal crest and reputation creates high expectations.
This is where technology can be the great differentiator.
…but don’t be afraid to explore
Tradition will only get you so far – and this trait doesn’t hold much currency amongst younger shoppers.
Gen Z’s shopping habits are evolving. They crave convenient experiences – 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from brands providing personalised experiences. Sustainability is top-of-mind for this demographic, with 54% willing to pay an incremental 10% or more on eco-friendly products.
But this mindset doesn’t translate into automatic action. 87% of adult UK consumers in 2021 didn’t understand the concept of a ‘circular economy’. Embracing the role of educator can reinforce heritage brands’ environmental values whilst simultaneously promoting genuine change.
TikTok and Instagram can be powerful tools to achieve this goal. We are living in the age of social media – approximately half of Gen Z want to see brand and product information advertised on social platforms. Knorr, the German food brand, used its ‘Dare to Try’ campaign to demonstrate how food consumption impacts global ecosystems. The partnership with 11 TikTok creators was a strategic way to encourage sustainable eating amongst Gen Z and younger audiences (the platform’s core users).
Social isn’t the only new technology sending waves across retail. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been touted as cost-effective tools to drive efficiency – but this isn’t where their utility ends. Becks’ new beer has seen its recipe, packaging and advertising designed by AI, all with the goal of connecting to younger audiences.
Fortnum’s and other heritage brands should be integrating new strategies and tailoring shopping experiences to align with these emerging trends. This is the best-in-class method to bridge the generational divide. Will Fortnum’s ‘clap back’?
Fortnum & Mason’s product-based approach has served it well for 316 years – but rich history alone won’t win Gen Z. The brand can’t afford to get left behind by this influential generation. And whilst introducing a ‘creative hub’ demonstrates positive intent, physical experiences by themselves aren’t the catalyst for success.
Multi-channel, connected experiences can complement the in-store shopping journey to achieve total audience immersion. Taking a leaf out of the new digital playbook and branching out in the world of social media can empower Fortnum’s to attract new, digitally-focused shoppers without alienating its existing, traditional consumers.