Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced in May 2019 that a new £62m fund will breathe new life into historic high streets across the country. High streets lie at the heart of communities but as we know, are under increasing pressure as more people choose to shop online, visit out of town stores and business rates and rents escalate. But are the high streets dying or are they just going through a period of evolution to meet the generational shifts in shopping habits and remain relevant?
Let’s not forget one very important thing, that across the country, people still enjoy going shopping, shops are not going to disappear and 89% of UK sales are still generated through physical retail. The problem is that many brick and mortar retailers have either not listened or been too slow to react to the changing social and economic factors that have impacted their business models.
To believe that your exact same format which has been successful for decades remains relevant today as it did then, is wrong. Millennials are bored with the same format and Generation X and Z are not ignorant to poor retail.
A belligerent approach only serves to insult your existing and potential customers. That’s why they’ve abandoned trusted retailers and by doing so, they are clearly stating that it’s you not them that’s the problem. This has resulted in a flurry of panicked shop closures, as retailers wake up to the fact that they should have reviewed their estates years ago before calling in the administrators.
So, alongside this and any other Government initiative we need traditional brick and mortar retailers to be imaginative and visionary to make retail work for them and their customers. And I don’t think we’ve seen enough of this. There’s been some successes where traditional retail chains and independents have introduced successful in-store experiences such as speaker spaces to free cookery classes to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere.
We’ve also seen successful buy outs where we see anchor brands amalgamate multiple brands under one roof such as Sainsbury’s and Argos (Store within a Store concept – SiS). This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.
The above concept appears to work, and this is where I think retail strategies need to be disruptive. As the pioneer of mail order fashion, reimagining retail seems to come easy for Next who have successfully evolved its physical presence with the inclusion of SiS concepts in selected stores. If we look at their flagship store on London’s Oxford Street it includes brands such as Lipsy, Paperchase, Henna and Costa and Mamas & Papas in its Bristol Cribbs Causeway store.
Surely independents and chains sharing space makes sense from a financial and marketing perspective and works for all collaborations, whether it’s an anchor brand and SiS or two brands in equal partnership. Let’s take my local high street, where there is a bookshop with a coffee shop and this unsurprisingly works well. So why don’t we see such partnerships more often with, say, independent clothes and shoe shops hooking up or cook shops and delis collaborating and complimenting one another.
I’ve been in the industry over twenty years so I’m not naive enough to think this is easy but retail is the most dynamic of industries and is tough. It requires a major re-think of the whole supply chain from landlords to legal and introducing new innovations like retail matching services. There are all sorts of challenges – what happens if one brand is doing well, and the other isn’t, if one wants to sell and one doesn’t? But we’re at an impasse where something drastic needs to happen for us to re-imagine the high street. And drastic means disruption and innovation.
With a staggering 2,481 stores disappearing off the High Street in 2018, the opportunity to split the overheads in tough economic times impacted by changing shopping habits, this is a successful combination for both retailer and shopper. For retail, appealing to all generations is the way forward, enhancing the environment in which we want to shop in and the customer journey association to brands. Retailers need to stop feeling their way in the dark. The solution is there. Look around.
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