How lost high-street retailers can return as online brands

We asked designers: “Which lost high-street retailer would you like to see return as an online store and why?”

Vicky Bullen, chief executive, Coley Porter Bell
Vicky Bullen, chief executive, Coley Porter Bell

I say bring back Oddbins – and not just because of my penchant for a nice glass of something interesting. Oddbins were one of the first to really ‘get’ retail theatre. Their franchisees had autonomy so every store felt slightly different in its tone and its environment – quirky local individuality, answering the needs of the community in which it sat, underpinned by a really strong brand DNA. They were the first to do staff recommendations, service felt attentive and human, people who knew their stuff and loved and enthused about their products. A perfect contender for a highly personalised online experience, alive with stories and opportunities to connect. Cheers!


I love the endorphin hit stimulated by interesting experiences. I’m not alone. The stores we’ve seen disappear have often lost that pioneering attitude that inspires purpose and breeds permission to make bold moves in a competitive high-street. Without being glib, I would love to see someone deliver an online experience that was genuinely interesting because of its impact on society (beyond a snazzy UI). Sadly we have to look back further than the high street I know, potentially as far back as Naukratis, the ancient Greek trading post. An ancient market that inspires the culture, traditions and architecture that surrounds us today.

Graham Shearsby, chief creative officer, Design Bridge
Graham Shearsby, chief creative officer, Design Bridge

The Athena poster shops of the mid 70s high streets – pre soft focus tennis girl and leaping dolphins – were the first introduction, to many of us growing up in those bleaker times, of the concept of accessible art.

Reproductions of Monet’s poppy fields, Dali’s dream worlds, Warhol screen-prints and of course airbrushed pop art coke bottles, were pinned up on thousands of wood chip covered teenage bedroom walls. They opened our creative and cultural minds, led to many seeking out the real works in galleries, or inspiring us to create our own suburban masterpieces.

Athena posters made art feel attainable and desirable. The importance of nurturing and inspiring creativity in schools has never been needed more, so a rebooted, accessible and affordable Athena online could certainly help.

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  • Andrew Murray-Watson October 7, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Oddbins is still very much alive and well on the high street. It has 50 branches across the UK.

  • Ron Stephens October 10, 2016 at 4:39 am

    Oddbins got ‘retail theatre’ so well that they went bust, well a voluntary arrangement in 2011, some outlets are still trading. Perhaps Naukratis, the ancient Greek trading post is still going but I can’t find any evidence. As for Athena it really went bust in 1995 but some franchisees kept going until 2014. Great examples hey?Pheonix operations via the web? There must be lots of people out there who don’t know…

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