Do you remember the last time you sat at a station waiting for your train with nothing to do? You were probably ten and living in a time when stations were sacred for trains and fond memories of the Railway Children. Because once upon a time there was nothing else to do in those stations but stare at the pigeon pecking at a crusty sandwich while the station master walked up and down blowing his whistle. If you were lucky, you might manage to get a Greggs pasty from the corner of the station, or if you were down south, you could treat yourself to The Cornish Pasty Co. But only if you were hungry enough and desperate enough because after all, they was the only options you had.
But oh how times have changed! The train station has been lost among a sea of retail brands and they’ve become shopping destinations that trains just happen to leave from. The railway station as we know it is gone, and instead we’re left with multi-complex food and shopping experiences that have just about everything we could ever need. You no longer need to stare at dirty pigeons and other passengers, as you can pop to Wasabi for some sushi, hit up Le Pain Quotidien for a coffee and some desert and then feed your Harry Potter obsession by pretending to walk through a stone wall. If wizardry doesn’t do it for you, there’s numerous book shops and champagne bars to whittle away the hours in.
And because they’ve transformed so much, they’ve in turn transformed brands. Human behavior will always inform brand decisions, and as we grew more impatient over the years, and as we wanted more and more, brands understood the opportunity and capitalized on it. Retail space in major London stations are now rented at similar prices to Oxford Circus rents. It’s a prime location and brands want to get a foot in the door.
Of course, the experience they provide to customers is different because people are busy and are rushing to platforms. The kinds of things they need are different and they want it in different ways.
And whether you like it or not, it is the end of the line for traditional railways and the nostalgic idea they were merely for transport. Now they transport our gluttony and thirst for pleasure, as well as taking us to physical destinations. And brands that want to keep up with their consumers need to start thinking about which station corner they’re going to set up in, and how they alter their messaging and product to fit the busy consumer rushing through the Waterloo crowds to get to either a platform, or the nearest bar as they wait the rush out.
Because ultimately, the station slice of the market isn’t one you can afford to miss out on. The Boots in Liverpool street station is reported to be the second busiest in the entire Group, and who can afford to miss out on that many customers?
Brands should alter their messaging to fit the busy consumer and see which parts of their lives they can fit in, and then how they get noticed in a sea of commuters who are irritated because there’s delays on the South West trains, again.