Insight: John Hoyle on the online sellers reimagining the high street

If you're a regular reader of the Sook Speaks newsletter, or follow us on social, you will know that our spaces are regularly used by online-only sellers from sites like Depop and Vinted.

In this week's look at the evolution of retail, Sook CEO John Hoyle talks to some of these digital brands, and discusses how Sook's growing network of pop-up spaces are delivering a much-needed boost to the British high street.

"Let's start at the beginning: many people believe the rise of online retailers - particularly post-Covid - is to blame for the demise of the high street. However, here at Sook, we are seeing a different story emerge, with many online-only sellers now moving towards a hybrid retail model, by using short-term physical stores to complement and grow their online sales and brand awareness.

"Through Sook, the financial and systemic hurdles that have prevented innovation are slowly starting to disappear, and brands can now rent a space across towns and cities in the UK on a flexible basis, on their own terms. We see this as a hopeful sign that the next generations of shoppers are reimagining the way we shop, paving the way for a fundamental high street renaissance driven by online independents.

“And while many see chain stores pulling out of our high streets as a sign of high street decline, I would call this progress. Those generic stores were the product of short-termist and misguided policies and were simply reinforcing mediocrity. What we’re seeing happen now is very, very different.

By reimagining our high streets, we can ensure independents have the ability to innovate and effect sustainable change.”

But what do the brands that call our spaces home think of the high street?

Danielle Mass, 25, founder of Remass, the world’s top seller on Depop agrees with John.

Danielle launched her sustainable mix of vintage and own-brand clothing online three years ago. Since then, Remass has flown. Her own-designed collections, made with exclusive sustainable fabrics, have helped to accelerate the business fast. She now employs a fast-growing team in her North London studio - and across the world. Now Remass plans to widen its use of pop-up stores to deliver an eccentric IRL shopping experience for its dedicated fans.

Remass achieved the incredible top spot status on the peer-to-peer fashion sales app Depop for the last three months, partly with its mastery of the Gen Z focused platform, but also its prowess on digital channels like Instagram and Tik Tok, where it has 28K followers. Translating that into bricks and mortar sales is the next step in its evolution.

Remass founder, Danielle Mass, 25, said: “I’ve always loved selling my own stuff on Depop. It was just a hobby to start with, but I realised its potential when my friends approached me to sell items for them. It has just grown from there. “Although physical retail will never be a huge revenue stream for us, in the one-off pop-ups we do, we tend to shift quite a bit of stock. For Remass and other up-and-coming online retailers, the high street is not dead.

“While Generation Z make the majority of their purchases online, they are still hungry for experience. We're not used to pop-ups and we’re not used to IRL selling, so for us, the high street is about cementing our brand even further, meeting our customers, and having fun.”

The brand’s two-day residency in Oxford Street, for example, saw the brand use DJ sets, a photobooth and a sponsorship with shots brand Jägermeister and collaboration with super cool UK drinks brand White Claw.

For Nicole Stark, the 19-year-old founder of '90s vintage clothes reseller Glownic and the Studio 88 collective, pop-ups are a key part of her Depop sales strategy.

“I think we’ve come full circle. While the demographic that Glownic caters for are very dedicated online buyers, they also want to do a day out shopping. It’s a novelty they have not experienced on their own terms.”

The Art History and English student at Edinburgh University has used Sook’s digitally-enabled store in the St James Quarter shopping centre to take her brand to the next level.

She said: “The nature of Depop means that you have to continue to push to stay on top and pop-ups and events are really important for that. If you do stop, another seller can get into your place and you’re back where you first started. The fluidity of the high street means it’s more accessible and that’s important.”

Emily Hughes, head of events at Glass Onion Vintage, is clear the high street is an increasingly important sales strategy for the Barnsley-based vintage upcycler and retailer.The firm takes a short-term lease for up to four days at a time and works on a ticket system, offering discounts to online customers to visit the store.

Emily said: “Taking a store extends people's attention span and the brand. We have pop-ups every month in key locations like Birmingham, Newcastle, London and Bristol.

“We’re seeing the high street as a key way to change people’s taste for fast fashion toward the sustainable route. There's been a school of thought that buying from an independent is a privilege and expensive - but more often than not, it’s actually more affordable. The high street is helping us change that perception.”

Find out how your online brand can take advantage of the opportunities on the high street with Sook. Click here to see all our spaces, or contact Miles Rhule on miles@sook.space.

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