eBay Moves Offline into a Commercial Property

Posted on 24 November, 2011 by Neil Bird

The news that online auction giant eBay is opening a pop-up store in London’s West End provides further evidence that internet shopping need not be to the detriment of commercial property. Instead, analysts suggest, it points towards the emergence of a ‘multichannel’ retail trend in which physical and online spaces will increasingly converge.

The store in Dean Street Soho, which will open between December 1 and December 5, is eBay’s first commercial property on the UK high street and follows a similar experiment in New York earlier in the year. It will stock a selection of around 200 of eBay’s best-selling items.

There will be no tills and customers won’t be able to take goods home. Instead all items will carry a QR code which can be scanned with a Smartphone. QR codes, which are increasingly used by retailers, are similar to bar codes and take the user to the payment page of the company’s website .The goods will then be delivered within a few days. An eBay spokesperson says the new venture will involves, “No queues, no bags and no stress.”

Pop-ups have been appearing in vacant commercial properties for several years. Typically they come and go very quickly, pulling in the crowds by adding an element of surprise to the retail experience. In the past, these have often been small businesses but recently larger companies have recognised the potential of pop-ups to increase their customer base.

EBay’s London venture follows pop-up’s from some of the biggest names on the high street including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Next and House of Fraser. More recently Citroen launched a pop-up store in Westfield Park one of London’s premium Village shopping centres.

What is significant about the eBay pop-up is that it comes from an online company not normally associated with high street commercial property. What’s more it follows hot on the heels of the Google Chrome store on Tottenham Court Road and Amazon’s London collection lockers which are situated in existing commercial properties enabling customers to pick up missed deliveries at their convenience.

It appears that these developments are indicative of a trend which goes hand in hand with the growth in Smartphone ownership that is in turn feeding a mobile shopping culture. Recent statistics reveal that a quarter of adults and 47% of teenagers now own a Smartphone and are increasingly using them to check prices and research products as they shop.

So if technology is changing traditional patterns of shopping why are three of the biggest online players; eBay, Amazon and Google, moving towards high street commercial properties? This can be explained by Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke who this year suggested that retail was entering, what he describes as a ‘multichannel’ era as consumers become more adept at navigating between in store and online deals.

“When we talk about the future of the high street we have to see it in this context, not put it in some silo or reserve” the Guardian reports him as saying. “That’s not how consumers view the world anymore. Their high street, their computer, their Smartphone – all these offer different ways of shopping and all are converging.”

A recent report from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) supports this view. Chief marketing and communications officer David Smith told Marketing Magazine. “Consumers want choice and continually demonstrate their willingness to switch channels to suit their specific circumstances and secure the best deal for themselves. Anyone focusing too heavily on a single channel is certain to miss out on opportunities for engagement as and when they arrive.”

In the short term eBay’s London pop-up will cause a flurry of excitement in the run up to Christmas and will then disappear. However if Philip Clarke and David Smith are right and ‘multichannel’ shopping is the future, then in the long term we are likely to see an increasing number of online retailers taking up temporary residence in vacant commercial properties which can only be good news for the high street.

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