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La deuxième démarque

July 4th 2015

It’s that time again. But if you’ve already secured your usual spot at the ‘camping municipal’, this should come as no surprise for you. This weekend marks the arrival of the ‘deuxième démarque’, the mother of all clearance sales (discount on top of discount!), which traditionally grips the whole of France in early summer.

The French have their clearance sales in the beginning of January and at the end of June. I prefer going to Paris for a cheap outfit during the winter months; I don’t deal well with ‘shop till you drop’ in extreme heat.

The funny thing about the French clearance sale is that it is stateimposed. In an era where online shopping increases by some 20% annually for the largest European retail markets, French officials still decide the exact moment the stores get to launch their ‘soldes’. Given the huge lines of Chinese customers in front of the Chanel and Louis Vuitton gates, the French seem to get away with this somewhat old-fashioned tradition, too.

At the same time, even in France, there’s no stopping the click-hitting of online stores. Just like with us.

According to the Thuiswinkel Markt Monitor, in the Netherlands we get 11% of all our products from online stores. That’s a 10% increase from 2014, hardly insignificant. In existing analyses of the new supermarket behemoth of the low countries (if the whole Delhaize and Ahold thing involves a take-over or a merger depends on who you ask), Albert Heijn’s online experience is praised by many.

This just goes to show that the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ store is struggling. Former renowned brands, conversative chain stores that failed to interpret the signs of the times, all of them fall into the abyss one by one. Polare, Siebel, It’s, De Harense Smid, Free Record Shop, Modern, Schoenenreus, Halfords, Mexx, need I continue?

At the same time, the industry is innovating rapidly. As usual, the United States is at the forefront. Let’s say you purchase something at Enjoy, launched in May by Apple Store guru Ron Johnson. Your delivery is then accompanied by an (already unboxed!) expert; teaching you the ins and outs of your new gadget for a whole hour.

‘Same day delivery’ is on the rise in the States as well, which speaks for itself, like the UberRUSH service (‘With UberRUSH, your packages travel like a VIP!’). ‘Pick-up Today’ was announced in the Netherlands last week, which boils down to order in the morning and collect at Albert Heijn in the afternoon. It’s a start!

The ultimate innovation when it comes to fast delivery service is found at Amazon: they patented so-called ‘anticipatory shipping’ where they send the products your way before you’ve even ordered them, based on your preferences. Amazon knows full well what you’ll end up buying, so they just go ahead and send it in advance.

It should be obvious by now: Americans trump all others in online sales. 57.4% of American consumers purchase online, compared to 46.7% in Europe. The average European e-shopper spends € 970 this year, whereas in America they spend the equivalent of € 1325 according to the Centre for Retail Research.

What about the future of bricks and mortar stores? We might just have to look at Europe.

I’m in Milan today for the world expo and I will definitely visit the Future Food District. They arranged it like a proper supermarket, where people can interact with (and purchase) over 1500 products. The product information is projected onto mirrors.

The idea stems from the book Palomar, by the Italian writer Italo Calvino, about a man visiting a cheese shop in Paris, who then thinks he ended up in a museum. Behind every cheese, he sees a field with a different colour green and a different sky. ‘Mr. Palomar sees behind every object the presence of the civilization that has given it form’, top designer Carlo Ratti explains on his company website. ‘Every product will have a story to tell.’

With this new shopping experience - let’s call it Shopping 3.0 - we have little use for more products in the store, they can be found online. What we need is more service, information and social context. Shopping goes ‘back to the future!’

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