The Valley Group

Birmingham: Can it deliver it’s big retail ambitions?

April 18, 2023

Building on the success of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Birmingham is undergoing a transformation to deliver its ambition in becoming a destination for the UK’s best retail experiences. Already home to the world’s biggest Primark boasting 160,000 sq ft of retail space, along with beauty retailer Lush’s biggest store at 60,000 sq ft, 2023 sees a number of significant new flagship store openings.

We headed to Birmingham to see how the city delivers from a shopper journey perspective, with substantial investment from brands, how well is the end to end journey being considered by retailers, shopping centre landlords and Birmingham City Council. The Bullring attracts 39 million shoppers a year, with Tessuti, Tag Huer, Nike and M&S all opening new stores in 2023, presenting big opportunity to create excitement and memorable experiences for shoppers.

But are existing retail occupants capitalising on the attraction of fresh tenants to elevate their own in-store experiences? We’re not so sure.

Selfridges is undoubtably a jewel in the crown for the city, as an anchor tenant in the Bullring, it delivers a stand out shopper experience amongst a sea of average retail in the centre. The store delivers creative in-store campaigns whilst retaining a reflection of brand personality throughout departments. Selfridges continues to bring excitement and inspiration to the shopper- albeit in some departments more so than others. The newly launched Beauty Concierge service expands the stores cosmetics, skin and haircare offering with hopes to ‘cement its status as a must visit beauty destination’. Appointments for a private consultation start at £30 where shoppers can undergo a beauty bag revamp and learn more about how to make their routine more environmentally friendly, unique services which feel relevant to the Selfridges demographic. The design of the space feels inviting yet intimate given its position in the centre of the store, although the space was empty and ‘closed’ when we visited, a missed opportunity to showcase new product demonstrations within the space between appointments to keep energy and drive shopper intrigue.

In contrast the children’s department felt tired and forgotten. We saw aged fixtures and once unique retail displays (Vimto pop up factories) which haven’t move on. Given the trend in this market towards sustainable, planet friendly, organic brands we could see huge potential in the re-design of the space focussing on using sustainable, natural materials for displays and new playful ideas for toys and games. We loved the use of Re-board around the store, bringing to life Angela Kirkwood’s bright and playful illustrations- this would be a great solution to bring fresh display ideas into the space.

A ban of phones on the shop floor?

Stores were unusually quiet during our visit. Despite the opportunity for a more one to one level of service to be offered- particularly in luxury branded retailers, we continually saw shop assistants scrolling on phones- often with no acknowledgement of shoppers in-store. A question which crossed our minds, should retailers ban personal phones on the shop floor? With customer experience high on every retailer’s agenda, surly this should be a consideration.

A Lush retail experience

A highlight of our visit and a store which had considered shopper experience from beginning to end was Lush. It’s a brand who understands how to harness the power of sensory shopping. Its distinctive fragrance draws customers in-store, met by a fresh hand-picked British flower stall.  There is theatre throughout the space, with a ‘Yo Sushi style conveyer’ belt presenting fresh products, skincare personalisation stations and treatment areas all manned by staff who are helpful and eager to support (no phone distractions here!). The brand has used localised language ‘Make up on Fleek bab!’ branded mirrors along with careful consideration to colour palettes and materials used in the store design to reflect the fresh, natural ingredients used by the brand. Products are easy to sample, easy to purchase and with selected products pre-gift wrapped the store delivers on personality and convenience.

Can Birmingham deliver shopper satisfaction?

Despite parts of the city receiving Government investment for regeneration in advance of the Commonwealth Games last Summer, Birmingham still has a long way to go in bringing areas up to standard. The area surrounding the centre particularly the pedestrian route from Edgbaston Car Park to The Bullring (including the car parks) needs considerable re-vamping, particularly as the city continues in its mission to deliver a premium shopper experience. In today’s world safety and security for shoppers should be an expectation, not a consideration. As Birmingham continues to attract the world’s biggest brands, let’s hope the city gets the support it needs to deliver its big retail ambition.