An Olympic appeal

With just four weeks to go now until the World Retail Congress meets in London, the Olympic capital, there is plenty to reflect on about the effects these fantastic Games have had. In fact, it is not over by any means as the Paralympic Games begin in a week’s time. As the baton is passed to Rio, the host in 2016, London’s retailers may well wish to pass on all they learnt.

The true and final effects of the Games are in truth yet to be worked out. But in the build-up, businesses feared the worst in terms of the potential for traffic chaos but were buoyed by the hope of millions of visitors to the City. For the first few days, those visitors were conspicuous by their absence as were thousands of office workers who were told to work from home. Business was as scarce as gold medals for Team GB as the British tabloid newspapers increasingly pointed out. Suddenly, reports and studies of the effects of previous games on their host cities miraculously appeared backing up the theory that retailers should expect no commercial benefits.

But then something happened. For me, the first thing to signal a turning point was the report from sponsor Adidas that in the first half of the first week it had sold £100 million worth of Olympic sportswear and was predicting this to grow far higher by week 2. Stores in the centre of London then began seeing customers and John Lewis recorded amazing figures week on week by the second half of the Games. McDonalds reported that it’s Olympic Park restaurant recorded the biggest sales of any in the whole world. Food and coffee chain Eat said that its store next to the Park sold enough baguettes over the two weeks to stretch the entire length of the marathon route and any product with the Union Jack flag on was selling fast.

On the Olympic Park, the self-proclaimed “megastore” had barriers outside to manage the queues and customers were only being let in as others exited.

It will be hard to untangle the general feeling of good will that built up around the Games to know what prompted the late spending rush. There has to also be some credit to be given to retailers too. Many stores looked great and none more so than the pop ups at Westfield Stratford mall next to the Park. And then there is also the sense that customers like a special occasion to bring out the feel-good factor. Retailers love a special occasion and if this bigger-than-normal occasion teaches us anything it is that properly planned, brilliantly and creatively displayed and then executed, you can tempt people to spend. And feel good about it.

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