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Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Retailers should want a pedestrian with slowww feet

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We’ve become pretty familiar in the U.S. with voters who vote against what seem to be their self-interests.

But businesses are supposed to be more focused, more zeroed in on what works and doesn’t work for them. However, here’s a British business decision that appears to be an unambiguously bad idea.

A retailer in Liverpool called Argos – it seems to sell pretty much everything, from watches and electronics to baby goods and housewares – has designated a strip of the busy Walton Road sidewalk in front of its store for “fast walkers.”

As such, it’s taking sides in an age-old urban combat between people rushing to get where they’re going versus people who amble, sightsee and look around.

Classic “City Mouse” versus “Country Mouse.”

People in New York will get this in, well, a New York minute. People in Los Angeles can probably stop reading. Nobody walks anywhere in Los Angeles.

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In New York, a blogger in the East Village invented a warning for visitors to the neighborhood that the “New York City Department of Pedestrian Etiquette” would “kick them out of the city unless they completed a class on the rules of the sidewalk.”

In other words, move it, willya?!

But here’s where the self-interest part of this seems to turn against itself. Retailers, in particular, should want people strolling and looking around. The old rule is that store windows have about 10 seconds to capture pedestrians’ attention, leading to the desired process: They slow down, stop, walk over, examine the window and go inside.

Why would a retailer want to encourage people walking quickly past its store? Well, for one thing, because it gets written up in The Independent, The London Daily Examiner and The New York Times, and it gets picked up in blogs like this.

So Argos gets a lot of mention and it establishes its urban street creds among a constituency that will certainly understand and appreciate its campaign: the city dwellers who rail with impatience against the suburbanites, the tourists and the out-of-towners who wait until every car, cab, truck and bicycle has come to a complete stop.

New Yorkers in the intersections, even walking against the light, wait for nobody. “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” Those New Yorkers have no time for anything.

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Then again, look at New York this month. The clogged sidewalks come to a halt in front of Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s, and crowds line up in front of Saks and Barneys windows.

It’s December, Argos – Christmastime. The sidewalks are full of shoppers. Rather than spending money to paint fast-walking lanes on the sidewalk, maybe you’d be better served by hiring a few clueless, touristy pedestrians to slow everybody else down.

Or just put up some cool holiday windows.

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20 years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.

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