A few weeks back I went to the launch of what’s been dubbed as a “unique experiential retail destination”. It’s called Situ Live, located in Westfield Shepherds Bush, and it hopes to transform the relationship between physical stores and online shopping.
Such an idea would usually invite a roll of the eyes (not from me, of course) from those who see physical stores as a lost cause. The pandemic saw a surge of interest in online shopping simply because that was the only way we could shop. It hastened the paradigm shift that’s been on the cards for some time.
And in the process, physical spaces were left well behind. Living not too far from Croydon, to see what the local shopping centre has become – empty, with boarded up storefronts and ‘cashino’ gambling shops – is a grim disappointment, an empty shell of what is once was. The Westfield complex that was in development for nearly ten years has been pretty much cancelled now.
But physical stores do have a place in the shopping experience, or at least they ought to. They are communal places, a way of cutting through the noise and seeing a product presented in front of you, and that essentially is what Situ Live does, but it has more fun with the concept.
Describing itself as a ‘discovery playhouse’, which I’ll admit had me thinking along the lines of the adventure sites I went to when I was young like Tigers’ Eye; it’s home to a varied range of products, both affordable and luxury in scope.
Teaming up with 75 brands, Situ Live offers the tactile experience of seeing and touching what’s in front of you, and with that comes a certain amount of directness and perhaps more ‘trust’ in the process. With the Internet, there’s not always that same level of trust, with an online listing of a PS5 sometimes being sold on nothing more than an off kilter photo of the console.
And you have staff (a very enthusiastic bunch), who aren’t trying to bewilder you with incomprehensive jargon but offering a warm hug through telling stories that revolve around the products. You want to try out that bed that moves up and down? You can. Want to use that exercise bike? Sure, but maybe not with those tight jeans. And if you’re interested in the item, then scan the barcode next to it and you’ll be whisked away to the manufacturer’s page, where you buy from them directly.
Of course, you’re unlikely to drop however much it costs on that blue Maserati that’s sitting next to the window if you’re just ‘looking’, but Situ Live is an interesting experiment. It merges the impulse aspect of window gazing with the experiential, lifestyle approach that’s probably the best of both worlds.
But it is an experiment, and not concrete like the physical space it’s in. Will it work? Is it ahead of its time? Or is it the right idea at the right time? We’ll have to find out and see. If Situ Live is going to change things, it must show signs of longevity. There’s been plenty of attempts at changing the brick and mortar experience that have fallen on their faces.
You can’t help but applaud the ambition as a glimpse of what the high street and shopping centres could become. If the last 18 months have provided plenty of evidence however, then a few missteps could see Situ consigned to the dust heap like so many others.