HIGH STREET BLUES

Scene showing busy pedestrianised high street in town centre with lots of people shopping.

What will our future high streets look like?

Retail is changing at such as pace; even old and long-established groups are under threat. Rising business rates, a continued squeezed on household incomes, increased debt, and changing consumer spending habits have left scars on the landscape. Some of the biggest department stores are having to rethink their bricks and mortar strategy with closures happening all over the country leaving large units that are difficult for landlords to fill.  Some are occupied by discount brands with rooftops reclaimed for additional car parking, and in some cases housing or accommodation. Others are transformed into lifestyle and leisure offerings such as; cinemas, gyms, bowling alleys or the latest fad for crazy golf courses. More are broken down into smaller spaces, offering an opportunity for independent popups, but there is also a rise in brands like Microsoft, Dyson and Tesla taking a leaf from Apple and opening flagship showcase stores in shopping centres and on the high street.

What’s next for retail?

Figures from the National Retail Federation show that for every company closing stores, 2.7 companies are opening stores so maybe the outlook isn’t so bleak. Lots of independent shops are flourishing, there are more artisan offerings than ever before. Technology is driving these changes, making it easier than ever before to open a retail business, with cloud-based big data solutions offer unique insights into consumer behaviour.

On the other side of the fence, the same tech is helping consumers by taking away the pain of shopping for household essentials with single click payment and next day delivery. Amazon dominates here, and their gift of Alexa has given consumers a personal assistant that learns personal preferences and reminds when replacements are required. The boring chore of buying bleach has become online entertainment for everyone. Chatbots assist with the process of selection and ordering, fulfilment is delivered by robots, so is it any wonder online sales continue to outperform the physical retail space?

Scene inside artisan coffee shop with barista preparing coffee

What do consumers want?

Even as retailers cut costs with bricks and mortar closures they still have a role to play on the high street. But, with fewer physical stores retailers need to offer more than just shopping. Consumers want experiences they can’t get at home, something that gives them a reason to return.

Once they’re instore, they’re much more likely to buy and, according to Retail Week Connect, 80% of surveyed shoppers are likely to return to retailers offering a quick payment process. This should be as seamless as the online experience.

Personalisation is another key factor. With so much choice available, a carefully curated collection of products and services tailored to individual consumer taste will positively align their experiences with the brand.

Are retail high streets adapting?

Some yes, but others not fast enough and there is a real danger of getting left behind. Consumers will shop elsewhere if a retail destination doesn’t meet their demands. They have so many options available to them these days and town centre partnerships, BIDs and retailers need to make the shopping experience mirror the ease of online if we’re to keep our high streets thriving.

Close up detail of smart phone being used for online shopping