Category: Shopping

Can an app save the high street?

Can an app save the high street?

Ian C Jones CEO of LoLo Rewards thinks it can

 LoLo stands for Local Loyalty and is the brainchild of an itinerant Australian now living in Kennington. Jones has worked all his life with small and medium sized businesses and thinks he’s found a way for individual shops and services to take on the might of the giant online retailers. It’s based on loyalty discount tokens and is an app that sits on your phone.

This is how it works: Download the LoLo app on to your mobile and you are immediately given twenty loyalty tokens. One token equals one pound. Via the app you now search for a shop or service you are interested in and for the sake of argument find a restaurant that you’d always meant to try. You take your partner out for dinner and at the end of the meal get a bill for £100. On that bill is a QR code. You open your LoLo app, zap the QR code then through the magic of modern technology the telephone talks to the card reader. You decide to use all your twenty tokens, so your bill now comes to £80 with you enjoying a 20% discount. You leave and as you’re walking down the street your phone beeps and you find the restaurant has gifted you £16 new tokens. (As part of the agreement with LoLo the minimum they can give is 5% in tokens however some will accept up to 50%). The restaurant will then likely ask you to write a review of your meal for which they agree to give you another five tokens. So, you started out with 20, spent those and got a 20 % discount and now have a further 21 tokens on your app to spend at the restaurant or with any of the other retailers who are part of LoLo.LoLo Local Loyalty

Jones adds: “Unlike a frequent flier programme where you’ll use all your points at one go, ours you’ll never run out. Ours only accumulate, you can transfer them to friends and family, but every time you spend them you end up getting back at least 10% more than you consumed. That’s what’s unique about it.”

The App also tells you how many tokens you currently hold and how much cash you’ve saved by supporting local businesses.

When a business signs up with LoLo they are given a whole stack of QR codes that are unique to their business. These are printed on cards for staff to hand out to their customers.

As Jones says: “If I had a coffee shop, I’d be standing at the door handing out the cards to everybody coming in saying download the app.”

He makes the point that if a retailer gives you a discount then that money disappears into the wider world, but with a token that money stays local.

But how do LoLo make money out of this? It’s very simple they harvest 3% of any transaction that goes through a card reader. So, going back to our notional restaurant LoLo receive 3% of the £80 spent by the customer.

Jones also sees the possibility of businesses, perhaps a florist, restaurant and dry cleaner, working together to cross promote their products to increase footfall and ultimately sales.

Jones’ mantra is first shop locally, then regionally, then nationally and if all else fails go to Amazon. He has high ambitions: “We want to make (LoLo) operate on every small business in the UK. Individually no small business can compete with the strength of online, but collectively they can. They’ve got some power so what we’ve done is given them a platform to be stronger.”

Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber Eats; they’re all disrupters and are playing havoc with our high streets. Can a humble app turn the tide on the big boys? Only time will tell, but why not sign up and be part of a revolution, there are tokens waiting for you.

Click here if you want to be part of this.


 

What is the most loathed retailer on the high street?

What is the most loathed retailer on the high street?

As this blog now seems obsessed with all things retail I thought I’d share the answer to the above question along with findings from the latest Which? magazine shop survey. They asked more than 7,700 shoppers which high street shops are top of the pops and which are dangling in the dirt.

Say what you like about WHSmith, but they are nothing if not consistent and for two years straight find themselves bottom of the plie. Customers slammed them for their poor value for money, poor service, and criticised the ‘cramped and messy’ stores.

WHS responded: ‘This survey accounts for the views of only 586 Which? subscribers and is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base.’

I put their response into Google translate and it came back with this: ‘You can take your minuscule little survey and shove it up your arse.’

At the other end of the scale, home entertainment specialist Richer Sounds came top scoring an impressive 89% customer approval rating.

Customers praised Richer Sounds for its in-store experience, which included having purchases carried to their cars and the retailer paying for customer parking.

Specialist shops tended to score well with John Lewis, the only non-specialist making it into the top ten.

Other highly ranked shops include Apple, toiletries shops Bodycare (both 83%), women’s clothing store Seasalt and bookshop Waterstones (both 82%).

Shoppers told Which? that Homebase/Bunnings was difficult to navigate and that it was ‘hard to find anything in overcrowded shelves’ and it was ‘difficult to find staff for guidance’.

Sports Direct was described by one shopper as having ‘a very oppressive atmosphere’. Perhaps the atmosphere was created by the staff on zero-hour contracts.

Which? Magazine editor Harry Rose, vying for the most bleeding obvious quote ever to make it into this blog, said: “Giving shoppers a great in-store experience is more important than ever if brands want to thrive on the high street. Our findings go to show that, if retailers can deliver great value, quality products and first-class customer service, customers will keep coming back.” Way to go Harry.

Here are the scores on the doors.

Top-rated shops

  • Richer Sounds (89%)
  • Rohan (87%)
  • John Lewis (86%)
  • Hotter Shoes (84%) = Lakeland (84%) = Toolstation (84%)
  • Apple (83%) = Bodycare (83%) = Crew (83%)
  • Screwfix (82%) = Seasalt (82%) = Waterstones (82%)

Bottom-rated shops

  • Clinton Cards (61%)
  • Peacocks (59%) = House of Fraser (59%)
  • New Look (58%)
  • River Island (56%) = JD Sports (56%)
  • Sports Direct (54%)
  • Homebase/Bunnings (53%)
  • WHSmith (50%)

Massive outbreak of Pétanque in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Took Bucket for a quick lunchtime spin to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens today only to discover a major outbreak of boules or Pétanque or whatever you call it.

Has this been a thing for a while, and I’ve missed it or has there been a massive influx of Frenchman come to laugh at us about Brexit? There must have been half a dozen teams playing, all taking it very seriously. Bucket and I stopped to drink it in.


 

Cable Café: Must try harder

Cable Café: Must try harder

I love to support local businesses; goodness knows I blog about them enough. Like many people I’m worried about the future of the high street and want to do my bit to keep our local stores alive and thriving. Figures just released show the number of shops lying empty soared by more than 7,500 last year, with one in ten shops in UK town centres now unoccupied.

Retailers, especially small retailers, have to be at their best to attract and retain customers; service has to be tip-top. So, for all kinds of reasons, it really grates when it isn’t.

We usually buy our coffee from a small coffee roaster in York. The quality is excellent but in our continued efforts to buy local Mrs Preen suggested I pop into the Cable Café on Brixton Road and buy some of their coffee. They roast their own and we’d heard good things about it.

I went in at around 2pm when the place was just opening up. There were three staff putting out tables, sweeping the floor and generally getting the place in order. I called out and asked if I could buy some coffee.

A man at the sink said: “Sorry we’re closed, but you can buy it from our other café down Camberwell Road.”

Now here’s the thing, I was looking at the bag of coffee I wanted to buy which was sat just the other side of the bar. So, I persisted and said look it’s right there, it’ll take a second for me to pay and go.

One massive sigh and eyeroll later the bag of coffee and cash machine are banged down in front of me. I tap the card on the reader and receive not a word of thanks.

I was so surprised and irritated by their behaviour that I actually said: “What’s going on here?” But answer came there none, just glum silence.

Perhaps they hate their jobs, perhaps they just hated me, but where is the incentive for me to return? I paid £12 for a bag of coffee and the transaction took perhaps thirty seconds. What was so hard about that?

Anyway, I went home fuming and made myself a cup of their coffee. It was delicious. But do I love it enough to overlook the utter contempt with which I was treated?


 

Growth on the high street

Growth on the high street

Debenhams just announced they’ll be closing 22 stores next year putting more than a thousand jobs at risk. House of Fraser survives on a wing and a prayer and HMV has already closed a plethora of their shops. The cold hand of digital retail is slowly strangling the high street.

M&S, long the bell-weather of UK retail, are not having an easy time, though buying Ocado and partnering with British Airways to supply food on their flights looks to be a canny move.

I went to Moscow in 1991 just before the big switch from communism to capitalism got underway and I remember what struck me most was the complete absence of shops. Their showpiece was the dreary GUM department store on Red Square where if you queued long enough you might get a loaf of bread. Russia has long since changed from communism to turbo-capitalism, but I’ve always had a soft spot for shops and think of them as the most benign form of capitalism.

Yards of newspaper space is now taken up with hand-wringing articles on the future of the high street. Should Amazon be taxed more aggressively? Should bricks and mortar stores stay open at more convenient times? Should business rates be cut? These pieces usually feature a comment from the retail guru Mary Portas, but however well-meaning these efforts, the high street seems to be dying on its feet with little sign of a vision that could turn it around.

Whatever the answer is I don’t have it, but there is an interesting experiment going on in our neighbourhood. I’d hardly call our little row of shops a high street as there are in total just eleven stores. We have the usual betting shop, taxi service, optician and estate agent, but there are three shops together that might just point to a direction of travel.

Around a year ago a new restaurant opened up called Oval 24, you can see this blog’s review here, it’s a fine eating establishment which has garnered excellent reviews. To the right of the restaurant the shop has been turned into a flat and is now no longer retail space, but living accommodation.

But it’s the shop next door where things get interesting. Oval 24 has taken the space and uses it to grow vegetables for their kitchen. Just recently they erected huge tubs filled with lettuces and carrots out front of the shop. I saw these going up and was worried they’d be vandalised; this hasn’t happened. Inside the shop other vegetables are being grown using horticultural full-spectrum LED lights.

There’s long been talk of the high street offering experiences rather than retail opportunities, but I never thought shops could become urban kitchen gardens. Perhaps it’s this kind of innovation we need to counter the dreaded empty spaces, the blackened teeth of the high street, and turn it back into in a vibrant living environment.

Update: Just took the dog out and went past the street I’ve been talking about only to discover that what was once a laundrette will soon be a gym offering personal training, which kind of reinforces the point I’ve been trying to make. Good luck Damo.


 

Phoney viagra seized at Nine Elms Market, Daily Mail gets hard-on

Phoney viagra seized at Nine Elms Market, Daily Mail gets hard-on

Last week I blogged about a visit I made to Nine Elms Sunday Market. The large police presence and the seizure of counterfeit goods caught my eye. Tipped off by plod, the Mail ran with the story later in the week.

Viagra always makes a great subject as it allows papers like the Mail to be slightly prurient and indulge in a spot of innuendo. Viagra: Raising more than suspicion!

But even the mighty Daily Mail no longer employs the number of journalists it did, so no reporter will have been sent to cover the story. The facts came from Queenstown Police and the story will have been written by a hack back at their HQ in Kensington.

But, here’s the problem, with a story like this you need quotes from punters.

So, a witness at the scene apparently told the Mail: ‘Someone could have bought that perfume and it could (have) caused harm to someone’s skin, but if it was something taken orally like medication it could have had catastrophic events’. Trust me no one, and I mean no one, talks like that down Nine Elms. Taken orally? Give over.

And this: But one shopper said counterfeit goods were ‘rife at stall after stall’. No one in the history of the world has used the word ‘rife’ at New Covent Garden.

You don’t think the Mail made up these quotes, do you? Perish the thought.

Nine Elms Sunday Market

Nine Elms Sunday Market

Nine Elms Lane SW8 5AL: 9am-2pm

New Covent Garden Market is just over the road from the Battersea Power Station development. It’s the fruit and veg capital of the UK with produce coming in from all parts of the globe and then being shipped out to all parts of the UK. During the week, from the very early hours, it reverberates to the shouts of barrow boys, the squeal of fork lift trucks and the thunder of departing trucks. On a Sunday, the nation’s greengrocers get a day off and it becomes one of the biggest markets in London.

The day I went, the sun was beating down, prices were being beaten down, police were clamping down and the new US Embassy was gazing down on Nine Elms Sunday Market. It was my first visit in years.

Superficially, not much seems to have changed. If anything, it’s even busier, perhaps there are more Slavic and Russian accents and a few more Polish stalls than before. It’s still very much a working-class event, with a high proportion of immigrants both buying and selling. New Covent Garden on a Sunday is a world away from the old Covent Garden in the West End. There’s no artisan cheese, craft gin or organic chocolate on sale here.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the sizeable police presence. I chatted to a few of them but in true plod tradition they were keeping it pretty tight lipped. In total I guess there were about twenty police officers present made up of two groups. One were officers impounding counterfeit goods – I saw at least two clothing and handbag stalls being closed down – the other group were police supporting Immigration Enforcement officers from the Home Office who were clearly tracking immigration offenders. They were in urgent conversation with various individuals, but I didn’t witness any arrests. Talking with stallholders and punters, it seems that in the last two weeks the police presence has risen sharply. Checking for fake goods and fake IDs looks like hot work for those who go to work in a stab proof vest.

So, what’s the shopping like? Arming myself with an excellent flat white from ‘Full of Beans’ (which came with a complementary choc chip cookie) I went in search of bargains. Trainers are a big sell with brand names such as Vans going for £20. Whether these are real or of real interest to the police I couldn’t say. Builders’ kit is clearly a big draw with men coming from all over to get tooled up with electric saws, drills, spirit levels and the rest.

If you want to take a break from shopping, check out the many global food outlets. Curry and Chips (see above), that’s fusion cooking Nine Elms style. Then there are several ‘Head Shops’ where those with an interest in illegal weed can score their rizlas and other cannabis related paraphernalia.

Inevitably, stalls sell electrical items such as mobile phones, second hand laptops, satellite dishes and there’s no end of clothing, mostly T shirts, jeans and sports shirts and it has to be said a fair amount of plastic junk. Get your dodgy cigarettes and tobacco on the way in.

Many people clearly love the place and use it as a popular day out to meet friends, have a bite to eat and pick up some bargains. It’s not posh, plush or pretty but it is cheap, and the place has a real energy about it. I accept some won’t like it, but it’s here, it’s on our patch, and you should take a look.

Fancy running a stall yourself? Here the low-down: A 3×3 metre pitch costs from £55 a day and you can hire tables and other market gear to display your goods. All new traders have to register and provide some form of photographic identification such as driving license or passport. Casual traders must go to the market office at 6.30am. Once you’ve registered and paid, you will be given a pitch for the day. If you want a permanent pitch, then that’s the time to ask. A regular pitch is cheaper and means you are in the same place every week, so your customers know where to find you. Contact: info@saundersmarkets.co.uk. Tel: 01483 277640

Shop Local

Shop Local

Our neighbourhood is fenced in by Brixton Road, Clapham Road, South Lambeth Road and Wandsworth Road all of which fetch up either at Oval or Vauxhall. Lots of roads, but no Hight Street; no banks and no big destination stores, but what we do have are great independent shops.

Use ‘em or lose ‘em may be a cliché, but when it comes to retail it’s quite literally true. Shop local because if you don’t, what do you get? More boarded up buildings, more chicken nugget boutiques and yet more bookies. That’s a future we can do without.

So here are three local shops for your consideration: Max & Melia, Blissett’s and Mimi’s Deli. I took a stroll round to all three and asked the owners why people should pay them a visit.

Max & Melia

  • 16 Clapham Rd SW9 0JG
  • Opening Hours
  • Tuesday to Thursday: 1030am-7pm
  • Friday and Saturday: 1030am-6pm
  • Monday and Sunday: Closed

Max & Melia is a gift shop; go in for a card and pick up a present. The owners have a terrific eye for quirky gifts, so while there are plenty of scented candles, greetings cards, and a rather fine Queen & Corgi salt and pepper set, you will also discover ‘shabby chic’ antiques. The owners scour auctions and markets for the unusual and idiosyncratic. They don’t claim to be antique experts, but they buy what they love, and they know what their customers want.

M&M opened its doors in November 2012 and originally intended selling furniture and other bigger homeware items, but customers started calling it the Little Oval Gift Shop, so that’s what it became.

Maxine, one of the owners, makes the point that what they offer is personal service. Come in a few times and you’ll be greeted by name, made to feel welcome and offered informed suggestions as to what you might want to buy.

The shop has just won a prestigious award. Battling against other top independent outlets from across London they received a Greats Award and were named ‘Independent Gift Retailer of the Year’.

They are dog-friendly (they own two), they have goods from all over the world, but they are on our doorstep so: think global and shop local.

Blissett’s

  • 32 Brixton Road SW9 6BU
  • Opening Hours
  • Monday to Friday: 8.30am-5.30pm
  • Saturday: 8.30am-4pm
  • Sunday: Closed

Google Blissett’s hardware store and the reviews are spot on:

  • Super helpful staff, good range of stock and fair prices.
  • Friendly, knowledgeable staff and an Aladdin’s cave of fantastic products.
  • Excellent DIY shop with very helpful staff.

Blissett’s is no new kid on the block. It was a building firm after the war employing some 27 men and was bought by the current owners’ Dad in 1981, who decided to retain the name but turn it into a builder’s merchant.

When asked why people should visit their shop, personal service and advice was again high on the agenda. While they still supply builders, many of their customers are now householders doing DIY. I can vouch for this as over the years I’ve sought their advice and products. My wife thinks I’m best at DNY (Do Nothing Yourself) but with their help, I struggle on.

Interestingly, they mentioned that many of their customers don’t have cars and so won’t venture farther afield to say B&Q but would rather use Blissett’s because it’s convenient and just a walk away.

They have a wide range of products which they claim are often cheaper than when sold over the internet and if a customer wants something they don’t have in stock they do their best to have it for them the next day.

Mimi’s Deli

  • 2 Brixton Rd SW9 6BU 
  • Opening Hours
  • Monday to Saturday 8am-5.30pm
  • Sunday 9am-3pm

Mimi’s has just been spruced up with some rather slinky designs of an elegant woman (is it Mimi?) drinking coffee. Any why wouldn’t she, the coffee is great in this extremely popular family run shop that is both deli and café.

Pop in for lunch or pick up something to take home. In our house their home-made pesto Genovese combined with their fiery chili pasta is always a winner. And my daughter wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention their legendary cannoli.

The café seats 20 people and is ideal for lunch with all the food being prepared in their downstairs kitchen. There’s a full menu every day which includes Italian classics such as pasta and pesto, lasagne and spaghetti Bolognese.

The shop has been a deli for more than thirty years with the present owners taking over in 2009. The financial crash saw off most of our specialist food stores so it’s a delight that Mimi’s has survived and thrived. As with the other shops I visited they pride themselves on giving their customers ‘that special, extra attention that you don’t get from chain stores’.

Mimi’s Deli: It’s our little bit of Italy on the Brixton Road.

You may already use these fine, welcoming establishments, but don’t leave it too long until your next visit.