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Unity Walk gets green light

Plans for a 435,000 square foot retail and leisure development in Stoke-on-Trent has been given full planning permission by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The Unity Walk development aims to transform the southern end of the city centre and will be anchored by Marks and Spencer and Next alongside a 10-screen The Light Cinema, which it is expected will also include Staffordshire’s first Imax.

Unity Walk gets green light

Marks and Spencer have signed up to a 50,000 square foot store that will be the focal point at the southern end of the scheme and immediately adjacent to the new car park. It will house clothing and food.

Rob Morray, head of property planning at Marks and Spencer said: “We’re always thinking about how we can deliver great service for our customers. Our proposed new store will help us deliver the very best of M&S from the heart of the new development.”

While Next have taken a 26,000 square foot split-level unit opposite Parliament Row. They will sit alongside 14 other units, which range from 1,000 to 32,000 square feet.

Unity Walk gets green light

Stoke-on-Trent gives green light to new retail development Unity Walk

The green light means that developer Realis Estates can advance discussions to relocate the existing occupiers of the site, the East West Centre and the former bus station, in order to get vacant possession. This will then allow demolition to commence, which it is anticipated will start later this year.

Duncan Mathieson, managing director of Realis Estates said: “Securing planning approval for Unity Walk is a fantastic result and a major milestone towards making our vision a reality. We will now work hard to relocate the existing occupiers so we can begin demolition as soon as possible.”

Unity Walk gets green light

The proposals for retail and leisure complex had come under some opposition from rival shopping centre Intu Potteries Shopping Centre, however, the council felt that the development, which will also include a 90-room hotel and a triple-deck car park with more than 600 spaces would be beneficial to the city as it would create more than 650 jobs and bring people into the city centre.

Images: courtesy of Unity Walk

Flannels gears up to open debut Scottish store

Flannels, the high-end designer store chain owned by Sports Direct, is set to open its first store in Scotland at Silverburn shopping in Glasgow.

Due to officially open in spring, the debut Scottish store will span 756 square meters and offer a range of luxury and premium designer apparel, footwear and accessories for men and women. The new store's interior will sit in line with the rest of Flannels stores throughout England and reflect the retailer's minimalistic and streamlined aesthetic.

"With constant footfall and a strong reputation, Silverburn is the perfect place for our debut site in Scotland," said a spokesperson for Flannels in a statement. "We are excited to share our collection of fantastic designer brands and continue our success across the UK." Flannels currently counts 13 stores across the UK, in addition to an online store. Minus its new store opening in Silverburn, the retailer is set to open an additional 5 stores in the UK, including a flagship store in London.

Flannels joins a growing number of retailers to open their doors in Silverburn, including Jack Wills, Levi's and Kiko Milano. "This recent signing clearly reflects the increasing attraction for high-end brands, whilst firmly cementing Silverburn as the region’s number one retail and leisure destination," said Iain Mitchell, UK Commercial Director at Hammerson. "Flannels has created a benchmark for luxury retail by providing sought after designers and fantastic customer service in a stylish setting, and we are thrilled to launch them at Silverburn in Scotland."

Originally founded in Cheshire in 1976, Flannels made a name for itself throughout the UK as one of the first retailers to introduce established UK and international designers to the North West. Flannels brand portfolio includes luxury labels such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Moncler and Jimmy Choo.

Photo: Flannels, Leeds

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved], Copyyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

John Lewis investing in digital customer service

British department store John Lewis plans to invest 4 million pounds in a new digital customer service initiative that will be rolled out to 20 of its stores as it looks to strengthen its omnichannel customer experience.

The investment will see 8,000 store workers receiving an iPhone loaded with a dedicated ‘Partner App’ designed to enable them to check product information and availability and place orders.

The app, which was designed in-house, was developed as a way to put an end to customers waiting for shop floor staff to go to stock rooms to see whether a product is in stock, or check information at tills, as they will now be able to help on the spot via the iPhone app.

“As online and physical worlds increasingly come together, this initiative, which forms the foundation of our digital strategy for shops, will support our partners in offering great customer service in a digital world,” said John Lewis customer director Craig Inglis.

The ‘Partner App’ has been trailed in its Cambridge store with customers for five months, where the customer feedback was “overwhelmingly positive” Inglis added, as the app speeded up response times to customer queries.

“This is just the beginning. We will keep adding to the partner app in the future with new, innovative ways to help our customers,” he added.

John Lewis looks to strength omnichannel customer experience with new in-store app

The app gives visibility of stock availability in all shops and at John Lewis's warehouse in Milton Keynes, where online orders are fulfilled, as well as product information, customer reviews, the ability to email customers product information and to place orders.

During the busiest week of the trial, half of all online purchases made in the shop assisted by a salesperson were made using the app.

Following a training programme this summer the mobile phones will be rolled out to the 8,000 shop floor staff in 20 John Lewis shops across the UK.

John Lewis has gained a reputation for its omnichannel approach to retail, it first started bringing its online business into its shops in 2008 when it installed screens so that customers could look up product information and check online availability. Earlier this year the retailer also introduced a self check-in option at its collection desks in shops, which allow customers to input their order number into an iPad while queuing, and the store worker serving them will greet them with their order, so speeding up the process.

The department store group operates 48 shops across the UK including 12 dedicated home stores and travel shops at St Pancras International and Heathrow Terminal 2 as well as online at www.johnlewis.com.

Image: courtesy of John Lewis

Gen Z look to visual social platforms for purchasing

Young consumers are switching the majority of purchases to retailers that provide the newest digital tools and channels, according to new research by Accenture. If retailers want to attract purchases and brand loyalty from Generation Z consumers they will need to step up their focus on new ways of engagement said the research firm.

Gen Z are seeking voice-activated ordering, curated subscriptions and automatic-replenishment shopping models, the research reveals, and they looking for enhanced digital tools such as the ability to purchase directly via visual social platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Accenture examined the attitudes and expectations along the path to purchase of nearly 10,000 millennial and Gen Z consumers across 13 countries, and they found that social media will become the preferred shopping channel for Gen Z with 69 percent of them interested in purchasing through social networks directly.

In addition, more than four in 10 Gen Z’s (44 percent) cite social media as a popular source for product inspiration, and more than one-third (37 percent) have increased their use of social media for purchase decision-making in the last year.

"Social media has emerged as a real disruptor in targeting Gen Z shoppers, who are true digital natives," said Jill Standish, senior managing director of Accenture's Retail industry practice. "To succeed in this increasingly digital world, retailers must understand Gen Z's' expectations, influencer circles and behaviours - especially their social-media habits and how they differ from those of millennials. If they are spending their time on social platforms, this is where they want to be buying their products."

Generation Z shoppers looking to purchase directly via YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat

Gen Z shoppers are all about visuals, videos and pictures, with YouTube the most regularly used social media platform, preferred by 84 percent of Gen Z respondents, while Facebook is still the most popular social platform for those aged between 21-27 and 28-37 years old. Gen Z shoppers also regularly use Instagram (66 percent), compared with only 40 percent of millennials, and Gen Z shoppers are more than twice as likely as millennials to use Snapchat (54 percent versus 38 percent for younger and 22 percent for older millennials).

Despite Gen Z looking to social for shopping, physical stores still remain essential, with 60 percent still preferring to purchase in-store, and nearly half saying they would check in store to get more information before making an online purchase. In the US, over three-quarters (77 percent) of Gen Z respondents said that brick-and-mortar stores is their preferred shopping channel.

The research also revealed that Gen Z shoppers are interested in new shopping methods, with 73 percent interested in curated subscription-type offering for fashion and 71 percent interested in automatic-replenishment schemes. Additionally, 38 percent of younger shoppers are willing to try voice-activated ordering, a feature that 10 percent is already using.

"Gen Z is the next big consumer market and purchasing powerhouse. Retailers need to invest in the digital tools that will enable them to speak to Gen Z through visuals, collaborate with them across multiple channels and devices, and make them feel part of their brand,” added Standish. “Offering services such as crowd-sourcing, customisation and hyper-personalisation are a must-have capability for reaching a generation that is shaping and commanding today's digital retail landscape."

Image: courtesy of Facebook

British women have named Marks and Spencer as the brand with the “best impression”, according to new research from YouGov.

The high street chain scored 58 in the BrandIndex surveys of around 2,000 women, beating off competition from fellow retail favourite John Lewis, which scored 54. The rest of the top five was made up of Heinz, health and beauty retailer Boots and BBC One.

While Marks and Spencer topped the list for those aged 34-54, and for the 55+, younger women have favourable impressions of different brands. Under-35s named Swedish furniture retailer Ikea as the brand making the best impression, followed by Ben and Jerry’s, Boots, Heinz and YouTube.

YouGov BrandIndex director Michael Stacey said: "Despite reports of Marks and Spencer enduring a troubling time, particularly with regards to fashion, our findings indicate that underlying brand perception remains strong among women - which could be key if retail conditions deteriorate in the months ahead, as some analysts expect.”

In terms of brands where women’s impression have improved most over the past year, Tesco came out on top with an improvement of 13 points. Followed by holiday operator Thomas Cook, HSBC, WhatsApp and catch-up service All4.

Ansible Launches World's Most 'Mobile Ready Brands' Index

London - A new benchmark to measure a brand's mobile performance has been captured by mobile marketing and technology agency Ansible.

The Australian company in association with YouGov, IPG Media Brands and Powered by Google launched an inaugural index called the MDEX, ranking the world's most 'mobile ready' brands. The measurements are based on five dimensions across both mobile presence and performance.

“The MDEX is the first study in the world to benchmark a brand’s mobile performance and will provide clients with the insights and roadmap they need to power their mobile strategy,” said Scott Player, CEO at Ansible. “In our increasingly mobile-first world, it is critical to engage consumers with a frictionless and dynamic mobile customer experience. The MDEX will serve as the cornerstone of our client advisory services and strategic offerings.”

Over 2,000 brands were surveyed across four global regions in 15 major markets including Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, United States, United Kingdom and Uruguay. Global brands were defined by large, multinationals that had at least some presence in multiple key markets. Market-specific brands were smaller brands that may only be present in a single market.

Nike and Adidas score high as 'mobile ready' brands

Unsurprisingly, the top performing mobile brand on the list is Facebook with Amazon at number two. Fashion and sporting good brands Nike and Adidas took the 6th and 8th spot consecutively and US retailer Target rounded out the top ten.

John Sintras, Global President, New Business & Product Innovation, IPG Mediabrands noted, “The MDEX extends beyond research, and will be leveraged as a key product for new business generation, growth and our agency’s innovation efforts.”

The MDEX ranking is comprised of both qualitative and quantitative measures. Measurements include Google search rankings, mobile page insights and friendliness score, discoverability - the capacity of a brand's mobile website to be discovered when a user need its as well as utility and usability - an assessment of UX in terms of intuitive design, value proposition and consumer experience.

The MDEX was unveiled at Mobile World Congress as part of The Digital Economy Keynote Session.

Photo credit: www.themdex.com

Russell & Bromley returns to Southampton at Westquay

High street footwear label Russell & Bromley is set to make its return to Southampton this spring, as the retailer has leased a new 219 square meter unit at Westquay new shopping and leisure centre.

Russell & Bromley is set to offer its full range of luxury footwear and handbags for women and men in its new store when it opens its door this May. The new store is set to sit alongside of other higher-end retailers, such as Dune and John Lewis on the lower floor of Westquay.

"We are delighted to have secured Russell & Bromley for the centre as the brand makes its return to Southampton, a very fitting addition to the strong retail line-up at Westquay," commented Iain Mitchell, UK commercial director. "This signing is testament to the appeal of the both the city and the scheme itself, which has succeeded in attracting a great mix of aspirational and high street brands in recent years."

The British retailer joins an increasing list of international retailers opening retail locations at Westquay, such as Victoria’s Secret, Superdry and Timberland.

Photo: Russell & Bromley, Facebook

Fashion retailer H&M is joining the line-up at Redhill’s Belfry Shopping Centre at the end of the month.

The 18,169 square foot unit will span across two floors and will house the brand’s womenswear, menswear, Divided and children’s collections.

H&M’s country manager for the UK & IE, Carlos Duarte said: “H&M are delighted to be opening a new store in Redhill, Surrey. This location is an exciting opportunity for the brand to expand and bring our fantastic fashion offering to new customers.”

On the morning of March 30 when the store opens, customers in the queue before 11am will receive a 25 percent discount wristband to spend in store throughout opening day, as well as an H&M goodie bag. In addition, there will be an in-store DJ entertaining customers while they shop.

Founded in Sweden in 1947, H&M opened its first UK store in 1976. The fashion retailer now has in excess of 260 stores in the UK and Ireland.

Visa has opened a new innovation centre at its European headquarters in London to act as an “immersive environment” where the payments firm can work side-by-side with financial institutions, merchants and other partners to develop the next generation of payment solutions.

The 10,764 square foot space will enable Visa to host partners and clients from across Europe to collaboration on new ways to pay, as well as engage with visitors on applications including the Internet of Things in connected car and connected home environments, such as paying for car insurance or placing a grocery order from a refrigerator.

Visitors will also experience the future of retail using virtual reality to pick the right seat for an upcoming Formula E race and biometric authentication to pay for tickets.

Rajesh Agrawal, deputy mayor of London for business, said: “London is a global fintech leader because we have been able to combine our traditional strength in financial services with our growing talent for tech and our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. As a successful fintech entrepreneur myself, I understand that quite often businesses need a little bit of help to turn the kernel of a good idea into something truly transformative. I am therefore delighted that Visa is launching this new innovation centre in London, bolstering our flourishing global tech and fintech reputation and proving that London is open to great ideas and innovation.”

Visa’s new innovation centre in London joins its global network of studios located in technology hotspots including Berlin, Dubai, Miami, San Francisco, Singapore, Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv.

“What makes the approach we take in our innovation centres unique is that they're all about collaborating with clients to solve real world, consumer pain points or business problems using digital solutions,” said Jim McCarthy, executive vice president for innovation and strategic partnerships at Visa. “We’ve had great success doing this in our centres globally and are very excited to be opening a state-of-the art facility in Europe.”

Zalando partners with Oysho

Inditex brand Oysho has joined Zalando's partner program and starting immediately, will make its collection available via the German online retailer.

Oysho's mother company Inditex is the number one in the world by turnover, while Zalando is one of Europe's largest online providers. According to German textile magazine Textil Wirtschaft, Zalando is currently the only pure player platform that sells Oysho's range of products.

“We are very pleased that Oysho has joined our Partner Program,“ commented David Schneider, co-CEO and co-founder of Zalando. “We want to create a fashion platform that connects all the operators of the fashion industry, whether brands, retailers, consumers or vertical operators like Inditex,“ he explained.

This is not the first time that Inditex has picked an online partner to improve its online presence: The apparel company has worked together with Asos repeatedly and with stock sale platforms like Privalia or Vente Privee for its various brands. However, so far the only permanent pure player partnership has been with Chinese internet giant Alibaba, selling via its online platform Tmall since 2014.

For Oysho, Inditex just recently strengthened the intimate fashion chain's online presence by implementing its ecommerce platform across Europe last year, which currently operates in 32 international markets.

Photo: Zalando website