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Why UK retail won’t be going rogue just yet

Chris Field
Chris Field

Rogue Retailing is an American term for any type of physical retail that persuades consumers to get off their digital devices and hit the high street. Pop-up shops, unique craft goods, trunk shows and food trucks. Anything that offers products and experiences that can’t be had online.

In the US, the concept is being widely embraced by shopping centre owners struggling to find relevance in a world increasingly defined by ecommerce. As a result, they are offering short-term tenancy agreements to rogue retailers.

There is evidence of this in the UK – East London shopping centre, Boxpark, changes line-up every few weeks, for example – but there is certainly more that can be done by our sector to recognise experiential moments and emerging brands within retail.

In truth, rogue retailing is just another word for good old-fashioned local shopping. This plays into the hands of smaller, innovative retailers such as specialists coffee shops, craft brewers, artisans and mixed retail spaces. Anything that looks like high end street markets, now to be seen principally on the edge of the City and in East London, clustered around silicon roundabout. But this is hardly evidence of a UK rogue retail revolution and the Northern Powerhouse might resent my exclusive reference to our capital city.

The problem, of course, is rents, rates, planning class and general regulation.

As things stand, the future of the store depends on how well smaller footprints are used, which so far has all been about convenience. And given that convenience is defined as any store under 3,000 sq. ft. which must stock at least seven items from a list dominated by food, alcohol, tobacco and household products, this hardly embraces the innovative, fun concept of rogue retailing.

There are lots of people out there who are fed up with mainstream retail right now, and a few are feeling brave enough to reinvent it in their own image. It’s time we ignore the boring naysayers that are still trying to measure retail through the warped lens of their own narrow experience, and embrace the locally-sourced, handcrafted, 3D printed and gamified. The UK needs to define its own rogue retailing movement.

How do you think rogue retailing will grow in the UK? Tweet me with your thoughts. 

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