In-store Marketing: Shop talk - The UK should rejoice in its inspired retail sector

This is my last column for P&I - I'm returning to Canada, which gives me a good opportunity to make a transatlantic comparison. British retailing is superb, a heady combination of the imaginative and the exciting. But it has its defects. The major drawback is its habitual all-round and unquestioning acceptance of the myth that anything from across the Atlantic must be better. In the case of both retailing and incentives this is simply not true.

It is no secret that many international retailers visit the UK to copy British practice. The chief executive of a major US retailer told me his board visits Britain en masse, at least once every two years, to map out the direction of retailing in the US over the next five years. Suppliers have the same strategy: wholesale plagiarism of the UK. It may be surprising to some, but the UK is regarded as a major source of creativity and innovation.

My view is not based on academic research alone but has been hardened because my permanent home is in North America. The prestige stores in New York impress, but the average US supermarket or department store is dull. Everyday shopping in North America is frustrating and tedious, lacking the efficiency, service levels and panache of the UK experience.

In-store marketing and promotions are decidedly sleep-inducing, with their monotony and predictable me-too approach. There is nothing new, no surprises, no seduction. I know because I shop there.

Shopping in Asda/Wal-Mart UK might be regarded as a necessary chore, but shopping in Wal-Mart America is decidedly mind-numbing - unless you like collecting coupons or want to win a holiday in Las Vegas. It's not only the stores, but also the brands that are missing a sizeable trick, leaving the way open for promotional marketers and their agencies to point out what could be achieved with some imagination. Perhaps it's time for the promotional marketing industry in the UK to take on the American market.

You will find a great deal of respect and also a genuine willingness to learn from the British. I hope to see you out there.


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