A couple of weeks ago I was (un)lucky enough to find myself at Stratford Westfield, the new shopping mall that is part of the Olympic park in East London.
It's an impressive structure with impressive facilities - I'd highly recommend the pizza from Franco Manca, an independent import from Brixton market - and overall, even for a curmudgeon, an impressive shopping experience.
As someone who has fully embraced e-commerce, what struck me wandering between the chain stores at Westfield was just how sophisticated the shopping experience has become over recent years. Every shop feels like a boutique, regardless of target market and price point: the experience of browsing in H&M and Top Shop doesn't feel a great deal different to browsing in Cos or Reiss. It's only when you look at the prices, or your fellow shoppers, that you really get a feel for the store's market position.
It struck me that every clothes shop in Westfield has learnt from the high end, allowing shoppers room to browse and space to see the product - and more importantly, the range of products - on offer. With their sofas and unobtrusive staff, my day at Westfield turned out to be far less hellish than I expected.
And then I went in to WHSmith.
As someone who makes a living producing magazines, seeing how the UK's largest news retailer mistreats our product and has learnt NOTHING from the retailers either side of it, was entirely depressing.
While the clothes shops leave you room to browse and give the product space to breathe, magazine retailing is all about stacking it high and selling it cheap(ish).
The aisles are narrow, the product is buried layer upon layer, the lighting and shopfitting haven't been haven't been updated since 1992, and should you ever find some sophisticated, beautiful magazine (like Privateer), when you get to the counter you'll be brought crashing back down to gutter with the offer of an Obesity Bar for just £1.
No. Thanks anyway.
For some reason the magazine industry hasn't cottoned on to quite how appalling a job WHSmith is doing selling our pride and joy - in fact, we're so in thrall to this retailer that rather than pressure it to change, we dumb our product down to base primary colours and SHOUTY COVERLINES!!!! designed purely to stand out in this shower of shit.
If the printed media wants to survive the digital revolution, I'd suggest shaking up the way our products are sold would be a good place to start. Maybe someone at WHSiths should go into Zara and see how it's done?