Retailers In Hot Water: Branding Blunders

Waterstones made news this week when it emerged that three apparently independent high street stores in Rye (‘The Rye Bookshop’), Southwold (‘Southwold Books’) and Harpenden (‘Harpenden Books’) were, in fact, owned by the chain book retailer. But it’s not the only brand to have been criticised for misleading the public.

Although Waterstones alleged that they had good intentions for the move – to give stores more of an identity, and tap into the independent past of these areas – the fact remains that, without the classic green and black branding, the ”identity” of Waterstones was lost altogether.  Ironically, their MD, James Daunt, has a background in independent bookshops.

In the past, Tesco has found itself in similar bother. In 2012, they invested in ”artisan” coffee chain Harris + Hoole, then housed some of the shops in larger Tesco stores, with customers believing them to be independent and seemingly unaware that Tesco had a 49% stake in the business. Then, in 2016, a move to rebrand the Tesco value range with more premium-sounding names caused confusion among customers, who thought some of the names – Boswell Farms and Nightingale Farms to name two – were real places and implied free range credentials.

For Waterstones, profits have improved since a digitally-triggered sales slump saw them on the brink of bankruptcy. Part of Daunt’s overhaul was to stock books that felt more relevant to the area demographic, such as the decision to sell Chinese history books in the internationally-focused Picadilly store. Because independents are by default tailored to their locality, it seems Waterstones have achieved an independent feel in more ways than one.

IMAGE CREDIT: imanka on Flickr.

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