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Osaka

Japan’s second city boasts both large department stores and quaint arcades – and its residents are some of the country’s biggest spenders. We hit the streets to meet the denizens of Osaka keeping footfall high and retailers happy.

Osaka has a strong business dna; Suntory started here and so did Matsushita Denki (now Panasonic). Osaka also lays claim to the world’s first station department store: Hankyu – still a major retail powerhouse in the city. The city’s famously entrepreneurial spirit has gone hand in hand with a fertile retail industry.

Today, the city of 2.7 million people has one of the largest economies in Japan with a retail market worth an impressive ¥3.9trn (€30bn) in annual sales sandwiched between Tokyo’s humongous ¥12.4trn (€95bn) and Nagoya’s ¥2.9trn (€22bn). E-commerce in Japan still only accounts for 5.4 per cent – ¥15.1trn (€115bn) – of the total amount Japanese shoppers are spending, but it is growing at a fast pace – 9.9 per cent year on year from 2015 to 2016. High street shops will have to be on their mettle.

The quintessential Osaka shopping street is the shotengai – an old-fashioned covered shopping arcade that proliferates up and down Japan – a mixture of food shops, cafés, restaurants and fashion boutiques. Although big department stores and malls have entered the city, there are still about 470 shotengai in existence – an outstanding presence compared to other cities, where their numbers have diminished.

These days, however, Osaka’s shopping universe has diversified. People might find themselves in the shiny Grand Front Osaka twin tower, the luxurious Hankyu Men’s Department Store with an array of Japanese and international fashion labels, or independent shops selling everything from vintage watches and locally made furniture to secondhand art books.

But some things never change. “People in Osaka love talking and shopping face-to-face. It’s an Osaka trait,” says Toru Tanabe from the City Office. In Tenjinbashisuji shotengai (at 2.6km, Japan’s longest shotengai), Yoshikazu Kitaoka runs a century-old curtain shop. “There are Hankyu, Hanshin and Daimaru department stores just around the corner, but people still come here,” says the 73-year-old.

Shinji (82) and Tomiko Matsuyama (76)

Retirees

What are you shopping for today?
Shinji: Ingredients for our dinner – prawns and aubergines. I love cooking.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Tomiko: A poor retail scene can lead to many empty shops. That’s sad; and bad for the city. Small businesses should be protected.

Muneo Kaimoto (83)

Retiree

What are you shopping for today?
I’m just tagging along with my wife – she’s shopping for cosmetics at Hankyu department store.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Osaka shops frequently have sales and offer discounts. It’s good; it brings people out.

When do you shop online?
Never.

Yumiko Ito (60)

Nursing-care manager

What are you shopping for today?
Small side dishes for dinner.

What makes a good retailer?
Quality in what they do.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Create an environment where independent shops can thrive.

When do you shop online?
Only when I need to buy heavy things such as dog food.

Masahiro Tsuchihashi (48)

Restaurateur and chef

What are you shopping for today?
Quality ingredients from a food market.

What makes a good retailer?
Kind shop staff.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It’s essential. Every place should have its own unique retail scene.

When do you shop online?
Never. I prefer to see things.

Reiko Shigenobu (73)

Herb specialist

What are you shopping for today?
A gardening book.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It brings great products, new information and people.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Why not let young business owners split the rent? They’d be able to get a space they might not be able to afford otherwise.

Yoshihide Hama (39)

Beauty consultant

What are you shopping for today?
A pen and I’m also checking out dining tables and chairs.

What makes a good retailer?
Great customer service. Remembering your name and face – that makes people return.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Even if they sell products online, businesses should make their shops attractive too.

Kaho Yabuuchi (22)

Hairdresser

What are you shopping for today?
Clothes for spring.

What makes a good retailer?
Keeping the stock fresh and interesting.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It means more people out on the street and a livelier city.

When do you shop online?
When I buy shoes or curtains.

Yoshihiro Okuno (70)

Art dealer

What are you shopping for today?
I’m checking out old art books.

What makes a good retailer?
Owners need a great personality.

What do you think could help revive retail?
We should support great shops even if they’re not the cheapest places. Shops also have to respect the city they’re in. They collectively make the city better or worse

Emiko Shiraishi (21)

Student

What are you shopping for today?
Vintage clothes.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Good shops have a loyal following. People gather, meet and connect. That’s important. Good shops need to hold on to what they have but add value to it. Keep evolving.

Kakeru Kohara (26)

Furniture-shop staff

What are you shopping for today?
Seeing if I should get more plants.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Retailers should connect and help each other. They should be public-minded and think about the city they’re in. A good retail scene preserves the culture.

Chihiro Shiraishi (26) and Shota Yokote (28)

Fashion retail and salaryman

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Chihiro: It brings in young people.

When do you shop online?
Chihiro: Zozotown sale!

Shii Ogata (21)

Hotel service staff

What makes a good retailer?
A good ambience and friendly customer service.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It makes the whole city lively.

Mayuko Hiraki (34)

Hospitality

What are you shopping for today?
Some food on my way home from work.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
If you have a lot of local shops rather than big chains, people will like and respect your city. It makes the place unique and attractive. We need to support small independent businesses.

Hiroki (31), Kanako (31) and Zen Koga (1)

Fashion-shop managers

What are you shopping for today?
Hiroki: We came to check out a couch we’ve been eyeing up.

What makes a good retailer?
Hiroki: To do the basics right. Create an attractive retail space. Keep your shop clean and customer service friendly.

Koji Umino (34)

Hair salon owner

What makes a good retailer?
Someone who thinks about the interior, visual merchandising and customer service.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Relax legal restrictions. Salons could sell more than hair products.

Kazuiki Tamura (30)

Hairdresser

What makes a good retailer?
A shop that has a strong focus and speciality.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It makes people happy. And people make their place happy, too. It’s good for everyone.

Madrid

Madrileños are famously sociable and would rather spend time outdoors than cooped up inside – and who can blame them? Not only is there boundless sunshine, the city’s retail scene is also evolving, becoming more interesting and inviting despite the presence of big chains. We join the happy shoppers for a splurge.

Retail is roaring back to life in the Spanish capital. Walk down any one of the narrow inner-city calles, and every few steps provides a storied insight into the world of a retail recovery. Much of this mettle is poured into inspired window displays; colourful, often comical compilations, all designed to vie for the attention of passers-by. In Madrid, the art of escaparatismo – window dressing – has become an expression of the city’s resilient spirit.

Once inside, familiar themes abound; tales of second chances, fulfilling long-deprived lifelong passions and an intrinsic need for human interaction. Its frenetic pace aside, this is a city that retains the familiarity of a small town; shoppers are on first-name terms with many merchants and buying daily necessities is made all the more pleasurable by the colourful conversations that accompany each purchase. It’s a spirit that comes alive in the revived network of municipal food markets, which are attracting young people back to the stalls with a more dynamic ecosystem of eateries amongst the grocers.

Despite a citywide conversation about big-chain gentrification, the survival of independent shops – whether in affluent enclaves such as barrio Salamanca or the more experimental maze of Malasaña – is built into the architecture. The small spaces lining each street keep big competitors at bay on the main boulevards or in the outer suburbs.

The omnipotence of retailer Inditex – especially in its Spanish homeland – is still a force that fledgling shops must reckon with. As the fast-fashion giants consolidate their foothold on the main streets, a surfeit of specialty shops have sprung up in their wake. Aware that they can’t match them in the game of convenience, the small-scale strategy has been more focused: sourcing hard-to-find products, celebrating tradition, and sharing their expertise with customers. With a better grasp of foreign languages, younger shop attendants are also giving warmer greetings and more helpful advice.

Rain or shine, Madrileños’ insatiably social character fuels constant foot traffic. The more intrepid booksellers, designware repositories and clothing shops tap into this spirit by adding coffee corners or an irresistible bar inside their spaces. A preference for the human touch also means most Spanish customers are averse to totally digitising their spending sprees, even as retailers in Madrid have veered into the realm of e-commerce in order to shore up their revenue streams abroad.

The pledge from Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, to make the city more pedestrian-friendly has seen the removal of many of the city’s shin-bruising bollards. Now, instead of scanning the ground for these hazards, shoppers can re-direct their gaze upward, to let the alluring displays of the city’s windows work their magic.

María José Zueco (42)

Lawyer

What are you shopping for today?
On a day like today [it’s snowing], I’m out to buy some nice-looking earmuffs.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
A thriving retail scene is a vital part of any city’s lifeblood. It is just as important as having, for example, good restaurants – and good lawyers, for that matter.

Davide Castelvero (40) and Cristina

Commercial scout

What makes a good retailer?
Davide: The majority of shops are copying each other so it’s nice when you see something original. A good shop needs to generate an allure around the brand.

When do you shop online?
Davide: The digital experience is about speed and efficacy. But with clothes and food, I prefer a face-to-face approach.

Saveria Casaús (32)

Illustrator

What are you shopping for today? I’ve just bought some new Midori notebooks.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Shops in Madrid have an advantage. People here don’t spend much time at home – they prefer to be out on the street and being social. They only need that extra little push to go into shops.

Pablo López Navarro (43)

Interior decorator

What are you shopping for today?
I’m looking for some white trainers, which I need to round out a specific look.

What makes a good retailer?
It’s like a good edition of a magazine: a selection that reflects a unique vision. As customers we have a duty to explain to retailers what we are looking for. It’s their duty to listen. Good retail is a dialogue.

Antonio (37) and Mariña Domínguez (5)

Architect/graphic designer

What makes a good retailer?
Antonio: Whether I’m buying food or clothing, I want the selection to be natural. This is usually something you can only ascertain in person.

When do you shop online?
Antonio: I shy away from buying online but make an exception for wetsuits. There aren’t many surf shops in Madrid.

Eduardo Ruiz (38)

Wine expert

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve just bought some soap from a concept store called Isólee.

What makes a good retailer?
Madrileños are looking for much more than just a good deal – we crave affection too. If a shopkeeper is gruff we’ll go elsewhere. The great thing about my neighbourhood of Malasaña is that it’s overflowing with independent shops.

Ana Himes (36)

Publicist

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve decided I want more accessories this year so I’m looking for a ring – but one that no one else has.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
A diverse range of shops ensures cities don’t all look and feel the same. There needs to be more of a collective effort to make sure smaller shops are given a leg-up.

Iñigo Aragón (43)

Interior decorator

What are you shopping for today?
I just bought a nice kerchief to wear around my neck – it’s for a fancy-dress party.

What makes a good retailer?
From the shop’s design to the products, the calibre of what’s on offer is important to me. A reasonable price helps too.

When do you shop online?
I’ve stopped. In Spain, we love being out on the street.

Dani Rocha (35)

Journalist

What are you shopping for today?
Market produce; I trust the people behind the counters here, because they know their stuff.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Independent retail contributes to a city’s atmosphere. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of a big corporate monopoly. So here I am.

Ana María (65)

Writer

What are you shopping for today?
Rabbit for a stew.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Madrid is always lively, but we need more than just bars and restaurants. There’s more to life than just grabbing a beer – although most would argue, that’s important too.

Sonya Avila (71)

Linguist

What are you shopping for today?
I just bought my week’s supply of fish and meat.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Very important. Young people are buying from my butcher and poultryman more and more. This is a good sign.

Erik Olivera (30)

Advertising executive

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve just bought some new shoes.

What makes a good retailer?
I prefer smaller shops because there’s a degree of closeness. I avoid anywhere overcrowded, where I won’t get the attention I need.

Antonia Payeras (27)

Actor and stylist

What are you shopping for today?
I’m always on the hunt for neutral items to match up with the rest of my wardrobe.

What makes a good retailer?
A good shop does everything with love – from the decor, to the brand selection, to the way they welcome you when you walk in.

Antonio (82)

Retiree

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve just been to my knife shop and it had closed down 20 days ago. Can you believe it? I’ve been buying blades there for decades! Everything is changing, I can’t keep up. I went to [legendary Madrid eatery] Lhardy, open since 1839, and bought this classic tin box instead. They’ve no intention of closing any time soon.

Paloma González Tarrio (21)

Fashion student

What are you shopping for today?
I’m looking for a handbag – the kind that you can carry everything in.

What makes a good retailer?
It’s not just the products or the service, but the music and smell too. I keep going back to independents because of how they make me feel.

Florence Bedell-Brill (22)

Editorial intern

What are you shopping for today?
I just bought some couscous from a very fun grain shop. How important is a lively retail scene for a city? Madrid is teeming with independent shops, which give local designers a space to flourish.

José Houdini (21)

Graphic designer

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve just bought some vintage corduroy trousers.

What makes a good retailer?
The thing that I notice most is the shop’s façade, from the typography and design of its logo to the unspoken way it invites you inside. A good shop should empower individuality.

Karla Meneses (29)

Actor and nutritionist

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve just bought a book to help with my driving lessons.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
My suburb, the Barrio de Las Letras, is replete with creative retailers. Madrid is a city where people love to be together and these little shops serve as meeting places too.

Larissa Van Moorsel (24)

Law student

What are you shopping for today?
I’m browsing higgledy-piggledy shops for something ornamental.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It’s all about the details. Speciality concept stores are all expressions of a unique vision, which contribute colour to the city.

Sören Heyer (23)

Medical student

What are you shopping for today?
I’m looking for sunglasses.

What makes a good retailer?
A shop should have good music. If I get a whiff of excess fragrance, I won’t go in. If you can smell the shop from outside, it’s a bad sign.

Mona Ruzicka and Sani Appelt (both 21)

Students from Germany

What are you shopping for today?
Mona: We’re just browsing today – it’s a nice way to escape the rain.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Sani: Cities really ought to think twice about building another mall.
A lot of the time, smaller shops have strong connections to the city’s design scene; this gives you a sense of what its people are like.

Aitor Tirado (25)

Electronic-music producer

What are you shopping for today?
A Reebok and Cottweiler collaboration (I could only find it online).

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Sometimes your shopping circuit only consists of three shops. Less variety drives people online.

Veronica Tierres Portillo (57) and Alexa

Doctor

What are you shopping for today?
I’ve bought a new raincoat for Alexa.

What makes a good retailer?
We fled from Chile to escape the Pinochet dictatorship so I’ve always repudiated rampant capitalism. I believe in the local little guy.

Florencia (36), Antonio (36), Alba (2) and Telmo Lustig (4)

Mother

What are you shopping for today?
Florencia: Well-made shoes.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city? Florencia: We need more petite shops. It’s just nicer to go hunting for something in person than scouring a website.

Sydney

Sydney has in recent years been shaped by its big mall groups, sometimes to the detriment of smaller players. But in inner-city districts such as Potts Point and Bondi, independent retailers are bouncing back, buoyed by Sydneysiders’ collective search for something new – and a good flat white along the way.

Having grown up with the internet, millennials (that not very helpful catch-all phrase) the world over have helped change the way we shop, often browsing (and buying) online. Australia, where the world’s largest online retailer Amazon has just opened, is no exception. In 2017, online purchases grew 11.5 per cent compared to the year before, with the number of parcels generated by online transactions increasing by an average of 16 per cent for every shopper, according to research paper ‘Inside Australian Online Shopping’.

The explosion of online shopping – combined with the growth of Sydney’s shopping-mall giants – has claimed victims. Sydney’s once-famous shopping haunt Oxford Street, a 4.3km stretch that reaches from Hyde Park down to Old South Head Road, used to buzz with fashion shops, bars and cafés. The arrival of Westfield in Bondi Junction in 2003, however, reduced footfall, eventually forcing many to close down: shoppers instead flocked to the Bondi Junction mall, conveniently placed next to a train station, where they could find national and international retailers all in one place.

But if Oxford Street is dead, other areas are beginning to pick up. And Australians – living in a country that has not had a recession for 26 years, a world record – continue to spend. According to ‘Inside Australian Online Shopping’ bricks-and-mortar retail brought in $261bn (€165bn)in 2016 compared to $18bn (€11bn) online. Many shoppers are looking for “experiences”: places where they can have a coffee, browse for some goods and then chat to friends. Both chic Paddington, known for its wealth of independent Australian fashion brands, and Gould Street in Bondi favour individual stores over bigger-name brands.

Kings Cross, once a sleazy nightlife hub, has suffered following Sydney’s draconian lockout laws, which were introduced in 2014 to try and reduce drinking-related violence. As the bars have shut down, however, the area has gentrified. Neighbouring Potts Point (long a smart address) today has a vibrant local Saturday market – where young professionals and families buy freshly cut flowers, hot croissants and groceries from local farmers – and a wealth of independent coffee shops and restaurants. These include the Potts Point Bookshop – a destination in itself where staff are well-read, informed and always ready to give a recommendation – to Becker Minty, a home-design shop that has lashings of panache.

Shana Chandra (37)

Freelance writer and shop assistant

What are you shopping for today?
A pair of wide-legged Simone Rocha pants from Poepke.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It’s essential. At their best, shops can act as creative hubs where people meet, such as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s Sex boutique in London during the 1970s.

Madeleine Frick (37)

Experience designer

What are you shopping for today?
I’m shopping for groceries and flowers at my local supermarket.

What makes a good retailer?
A good retailer knows their customer and goes beyond their needs and wants by making the shopping experience exceptional. Being inspired when walking into a shop makes me want to come back, as well as meeting informed keepers.

Keir (43), Louisa (40) and Jupiter Lewis

Owners, Keir Pilates

What are you shopping for today?
Keir: Milk and fruit – we ran out so we decided to go out for breakfast.

What could help revive retail?
Keir: Retail seems to be thriving here. There’s a change from a nightlife economy to a residential one here, which I hope attracts retail businesses who will participate in the community.

Nick Plows (30)

Manager, suit shop

What are you shopping for today?
A new suit by P Johnson tailors – I get the majority of my wardrobe made by Patrick.

What makes a good retailer?
I can’t think of anything that trumps great service.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
The best retail experiences are away from the hustle and bustle.

Olivia Moulder (20)

Student

What are you shopping for today?
Potential outfits to wear to a 21st birthday party I’m going to this weekend.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
The retail scene is still vital – especially somewhere like Bondi, where you’re constantly stumbling upon quirky boutiques that you didn’t even know existed.

Gerald Diel (39)

Digital operator

What are you shopping for today?
Activated organic vegan hemp seed. Just kidding – I’m just here for the coffee.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
I’m not into big crowds but I think it’s nice that people are employed.

When do you shop online?
After office hours. Often in bed.

Sophie Mathison (30)

Film-maker

What are you shopping for today?
I’m buying a gift for some friends living abroad and hunting for a photography book.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
Retail isn’t and shouldn’t be the heart of a city; community is paramount. I’m more interested in cultural events – anything that brings people together to share perspectives and experiences.

Virginia Wilson (51)

Public-art adviser

What are you shopping for today?
I’m looking at some kooky new Ugg slippers and I’ve just collected a repaired watch –hence why I’m wearing two.

What makes a good retailer?
I love it when a shop assistant is smart enough to tell me something doesn’t suit me and suggest an item that does. A rare and terrifying quality. I hate being asked how I’m doing – so banal.

Nick Smart (36)

Private banker

What are you shopping for today?
Vilebrequin swim shorts for my trip to Europe later in the year.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It plays a vital role in what makes any city. When you think of London and New York and their flagship stores, such as Selfridges or Macy’s, it’s these as well as the bars and restaurants that are key.

Su Hucks (‘50-plus’)

Film producer

What are you shopping for today?
Earrings and books and a great coffee.

What do you think could help revive retail?
I haven’t personally been affected by any downturn in retail because I love to still feel the material, and see and try out things in reality. So I still shop.

Bruce Slorach (55)

Designer and textile artist

What makes a good retailer?
Authenticity, integrity, a unique quality product, individuality, store experience, beautiful life momentos, knowledgable sales staff.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
All the great cities have memorable retail and dining experiences.

Andrew Bayley (39) and Emma Gott (28)

Retail director and vip relations manager

What are you shopping for today?
Emma: Local produce from the farmers’ market in Kings Cross.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Emma: Retail needs to be considered as a career and not just a job. We need sales staff to care about what they do.

Ben Juzwin (31) and Louisa Khong (28)

Marketing director and creative director

What are you shopping for today?
Ben: A new party shirt. Failing that, if I end up with a croissant and coffee I’ll be happy.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Louisa: Focusing more on the in-store experience. Bricks-and-mortar retailers have to offer something valuable that you can’t get online.

Nicole Liedberg (31)

Graphic designer/art director

What are you shopping for today?
Flowers from Grandiflora, my favourite Sydney florist.

What makes a good retailer?
Great curation. I love concept stores that mix books, clothes, accessories, flowers, homeware – especially with a café attached, making it more of a destination that invites you to stay for a while.

Chris Rayment (39)

Chief exploring officer

What makes a good retailer?
The personal touch of a shop recognising you as an individual.

What do you think could help revive retail?
Special events provide great exposure for local retail. When communities and retailers work together everyone benefits.

Sana Qadar (30)

TV reporter

What are you shopping for today?
A book for a friend – something about London because she’s thinking of moving there.

When do you shop online?
At work. Don’t tell my boss.

Sam Mingle (45)

Head tailor

What are you shopping for today?
Shoes for the missus.

What makes a good retailer?
Charming personality and interesting products. Bad retail is not engaging with your clientele.

How important is a lively retail scene for a city?
It creates community and inspires ideas.

What do you think could help revive retail?
A bit more help from local government and landlords.

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