We didn’t see that coming

Pooka Moon Edinburgh 2011 02Harvest Moon spirituality shop Stourbridge Feb 2012 01








Celtic mysticism abounds in Stirling, mainly because a number of the retail staff here are Welsh – and those that aren’t, such as Steve Burt, wish they were –  and so strange languages are often found and occasionally spoken.

It also means that different things take our fancy and occasionally become the subject of serious academic research. Which sort of explains (excuses) why a couple of my colleagues have been away with the fairies, unicorns and other assorted beasts and different folk. Anyhow they have returned and have turned their journey of their investigation of spirituality and retailing into an academic paper published in the 3* Service Industries Journal.

Now I find it difficult to say what they have been up to and what they have found out, as my beliefs extend only as far as the false hope of Wales winning the Rugby World Cup next year. So I hand over to Paul Freathy, who with Keri Davies (and the photos are Keri’s) has been looking at spirituality and retailing.

So, over to Paul:

“One of the most satisfying things about being an academic is that you can often be the first to identify new market trends, new retail formats and new business opportunities. Indeed we often pride ourselves on spotting such developments before anyone else.

Every now and then however we have to hold up our hands and admit that despite our best efforts, changes happen that we miss.

An academic colleague of mine who has limited interest in the retail sector (I know it is odd, but there are some) popped into my room and asked what work had been done on spirituality retailing. After the obvious joke about the clairvoyant who had to close due to unforeseen circumstances, a search of the IRS library and on-line revealed very limited academic research on this particular market.

Being the curious types, my colleague Keri Davies and I, decided to set ourselves the task of finding out more about retail spirituality. Our investigations were limited to Scotland and focused upon understanding a little bit more about this market, the businesses that operate and the types products sold.

It was quickly apparent that “spirituality” is an umbrella term that covers a multitude of different products and services. A quick overview of websites, publications and the limited academic literature reveals retailers who describe themselves as New Age, Mind Body and Spirit (MBS), Occult, Witchcraft, Pagan, Wiccan, Holistic… the list goes on.

What then defines a spirituality retailer? Do they have to stock tarot cards? Are they required to provide services such as palm reading and healing sessions or do they only need to stock magazines such as Spirit and Destiny or Soul and Spirit? Depending upon how the market is defined spirituality retailers range from the witchcraft shop selling wands, cauldrons and altar pieces to Tesco selling the latest publications on meditation, crystal cures and angel advice (I have always wanted to see if I could get Tesco and witchcraft into the same sentence).

From a small business perspective, numerous questions arise. For example, how do these firms position themselves in the market. Is a shop that describes itself as Pagan different from the store sees itself as Wiccan? Perhaps these distinctions are clear from a customer perspective but for someone who is not the target market, the differences are not readily apparent.

Certainly there appears to be significant product overlaps across many different types of spirituality retailer. This in turn begs the question as to whether items such as incense, oils and crystals are integral parts of each faith or whether they represent the footfall drivers that allow the small business to continue to trade. Quite simply we don’t really know very much about the strategy and operation of those who service the spirituality market and as is the case with many academic studies our research raised more questions than it solved (you didn’t really expect answers from us did you?).

For those of you that are interested, our exploratory investigation has been published in the Service Industries Journal (click here or contact the author Paul Freathy). What this article contains are our initial findings, propositions for future research and some suggestions for better understanding this emerging retail market.

Finally for those of you who are tempted to further explore the mystique of the spirituality market, I would suggest you approach it with an open mind. As well as more familiar products such as relaxation CD’s and aromatherapy oils, you will undoubtedly come across numerous psychics and mediums offering their services (calls £1.53 per minute, €2.40 from the Republic of Ireland ) as well as the website dedicated to the memory and preservation of unicorns.

However, my personal favourite is the fairy door (£6.99) where by
“placing the door against a wall in your home, you allow the fairies to cross over onto our plain and enter our world…”

I keep mine in the oven …..apparently they taste like chicken.”

Keri Davies & Paul Freathy (2014): Marketplace spirituality: challenges for the
New Age retailer, The Service Industries Journal, DOI: 10.1080/02642069.2014.942650

Pooka Moon Edinburgh 2011 04Tonys Emporium Spirituality shop Carmarthen Feb 2012 03

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Consumer Change, Experiential, Fairies, Merchandising, New Age, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Spirituality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to We didn’t see that coming

  1. Pingback: Lampeter Food Festival | Stirlingretail

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