The power of in-person shopping: insights from Blakely’s CEO

With experiential stores and pop-up shops popping up en masse in the last few months, some say that the high street is making a comeback. We spoke to experts at growing British fashion brand Blakely Clothing investigate this trend.

According to a 2023 PwS report*, net store closures are now at their lowest rate since 2017 and openings are an increasing trend. However, retail footfall is still 10-20% below pre-pandemic levels.

At the same time, the retail pop-up market is growing, with the number of pop-up shops in the UK increasing by around 18% over the course of 2022.** Blakely has been riding the wave of this trend, initially opening their Westfield store in Stratford as a pop-up shop in summer 2023. Gareth Newman, CEO at Blakely, notes that the store soon cemented a permanent position in their brand offering, as the team continued to see a strong interest in in-person shopping.

Blakely, founded in 2012, has primarily operated online, building a large social media community. Although, in recent years the brand has experienced success in an expansion to the high street. Gareth Newman says: “Brick-and-mortar stores drive the human connection we are all missing. After 3 years of lockdown and an eCommerce boom, a whole new generation of brands were born through social advertising and the increase of online shopping. 

“However, as we spend more and more time looking at our phones there could be a few reasons why consumers are looking to go back to the high street and shop in physical form. If the queues at Bicester Village on Boxing Day 2023 were anything to go by, shoppers are more keen than ever to have the in-store experience.”

Sources:
* https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/retail-consumer/insights/store-openings-and-closures.html
** https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-67911127

With overall in-person shopping footfall still being 10 to 20% below pre-pandemic levels, it’s too early to speak of a total comeback. However, Newman argues that there certainly is an appetite for ‘IRL retail’, particularly in an industry such as fashion: “By returning to stores not only are consumers able to get a feel for the brand but also a feel for the item. In one interaction, the customer can understand the brand, its shoppers and the quality of the item they are purchasing.”

Newman sees brick-and-mortar shops as a powerful way to build community and provide experiences that transcend the possibilities of just online shopping: “An immersive shopping experience has a deeper impact on customer loyalty than that of an online one. Blakely is capitalising on this with pop-up shops, events and most recently a new permanent store in Stratford Westfield which held an opening event with customers, influencers and celebrity guests.”

“Those looking to perhaps dip their toe into the yoga and wellness scene can arrive at an event and test out their new gym gear all at the same time. It is our ethos that brands which drive customer connection are more successful long term than those offering a surface level one.”

In 2024, Blakely is looking forward to exploring the in-person shopping experience, and continue building the brand’s community both online and offline.