retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Yesterday I read a lovely little blog posting about shopping in Paris that I thought I'd share, in part because it makes a good point about retailing, and in part because I have a sentimental attachment to the author.

The blog is called Parisian On Purpose, and it tells the story of how the author wandered into a "little boutique on the Rue Boulard in the 14th arrondissement," looking for something that seemed typically Parisian that he could bring home with him to Manhattan. The shopkeeper, however, told him that her goal was to create a store that would evoke - you guessed it - Manhattan.

And yet...

"The recollection of place, or the evocation of a visit or voyage, is more important for the person who recollects or evokes than for the person who sees what’s evoked. You never really get what’s meant by what you see, or what others want you to see. It was enough for this boutique owner to think that she had created something that resembled what she’d seen in New York for it to be so for her. It certainly wasn’t for me to tell her otherwise – her impressions and memories weren’t mine. And of course I didn’t tell her that I had entered her store because I’d wanted to purchase a little something that would remind me of Paris."

The blog posting is actually about the concept of home and the notion of new beginnings, but I thought the observation about retail was an important one - that what retailers mean is not necessarily what shoppers see. While it is critical for marketers to have a vision, it is equally important to listen, and to be nimble enough to adjust when reality does not synch with expectations. (In its own way, that's what Amazon does when its home page appears differently for every customer - it may be mechanized and driven by algorithms, but it is highly personalized.)

The sentimental part of the blog posting was that it was written by a fellow named Bob Hughes, an accomplished novelist (and someone far more literate than I) who also happens to be the guy who was my first editor when I joined Supermarket Business magazine back in 1984 - my first job covering the food business. (I figured I'd do it for six months or so and then go write about something else. Go figure.)

Bob was a good guy and an expert editor - and he also happens to be the person who taught me how to make risotto, which remains one of my favorite dishes. I've lost touch with him over the years, and so I enjoyed reading about his adventures in Paris ... especially because they connected with the subject - retailing - that we wrote about for the same magazine more than 30 years ago.

Enjoy. I found it to be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: