The decline of our high streets continues with more big brands going under: Countrywide Farmers (agricultural merchants), Prezzo (a restaurant chain), Toy R Us, Maplin (electronics) and New Look, a huge fashion retailer.
Our continued thirst for online sales is being cited as the predominant cause and I can’t argue with that. We have come to expect everything now: I order online, it arrives within 24/48 hours. Not every high street retailer can compete with that. Big companies that have deliveries every day maybe and those that are prepared to send out individual orders via mail to shops, yes, they can compete.
But if your company will only send a customer request via your next scheduled delivery, then no, competitive advantage lost because the customer will walk out the shop, get on their smartphone, order it there and then, and bam!, it arrives 24/48 hours later on your doorstep.
That purchase is not attributed to the P&L of the shop but the internet arm of the business.
Couple this with high leasehold rents per square foot and high wage bills, particularly since the national minimum wage came into being which is due for another increase in april this year (I’m not complaining about that to be honest), and you have a need for doom aversion tactics.
I postulised many years ago that the face of retail would change where shops would become a showroom, a walk in catalogue you could browse. You wouldn’t actually buy goods and walk out with them in a bag, you’d look at what was on offer, then purchase from an in-store computer which would deliver either direct to your home or the store for collection within 24/48hrs.
Life seems to be all about destinations these days so the high street needs to be a destination, not just a place to go shopping. Hence the rise of the coffee shop. But for people like me who loathe shopping, don’t drink coffee (or tea or milk or anything but water), the high street has got to do something to entice me there.
If customers are just going into a store to browse with every intention of buying online later, then retailers need to do something to get and keep them in store. I’m not going to suggest that all stores have coffee shops in them but a fashion retailer could have monthly fashion shows to highlight their new products, demonstrations on how to dress for your shape and how to put together a flattering capsule wardrobe from their product range.
An electronics store could run short demonstrations on internet security. A garden centre could run courses on container gardening for those with small outdoor spaces but who still would like to grow food at home. A health food store could give talks on supplements and health foods for particular illnesses. The list goes on.
I hope the high street doesn’t continue to decline, that the government and other powers that be step in with practical solutions to revitalise it. We are living in a time of greatest creativity so let’s harness some of that to think outside the box and get creative with the high street.