The ‘death’ of the High Street is sadly not a story we are unfamiliar with. Each month seems to bring fresh news of the retail sector’s financial woes, and even high street giants such as M&S, House of Fraser and Debenhams have been unable to avoid a large number of store closures. Similarly, in the casual dining sector, well-known chains such as Byron Burger and Jamie Oliver have announced the closure of a third of all stores. This trend is not UK-centric as even the infamous Macy’s has confirmed the closure of 150 stores across the US.
But what has caused these companies to rapidly reduce their portfolios? The most obvious answer – technology. Perhaps an overload of it. With so much information at our fingertips, shoppers no longer want to settle for mediocre, we want the absolute best at the upmost convenience. E-commerce has been quick to benefit from this new trend.
However, gloomy predictions around increasingly vacant lots or pound shops taking over town centres are misplaced. Last week’s Revo 2018 conference was characterised with optimism and excitement for the future of retail. While e-commerce is booming and is expected to grow further, consumers do still want the option of physical shopping. Going into town can offer a social function internet shopping cannot, therefore high streets need to reinvent themselves as social spaces to regain much needed footfall.
How do we create a social space? We make things for the community – places such as parks, libraries, events venues, doctor’s surgeries, things that the community want and need. High streets should not just be a collection of shops that are indistinguishable from the next town. They should be unique places that entertain us and make us want to spend our limited free time there. There needs to be diversity, a mixture of small and large fashion retailers, a range of independent food outlets, beauty salons and sports facilities. These spaces need distinctive design features and good transport links.
Secondly, high streets need to offer a sense of ‘experience’ that online shopping cannot. Revo speaker, Howard Saunders, spoke of the ‘rise of the brand playground’ and how the most successful stores have recognised that it is not enough just to be a store anymore. Stores need a fun atmosphere where customers are at the centre of the experience – they are venues in their own right.
Dr Martens have reminded consumers of the brand’s musical roots by creating a permanent stage in their Camden store, where anyone can perform. Converse created its 1-star pop-up hotel for one night only in Shoreditch, which featured the latest converse collection, bedrooms curated by guest artists and a series of after-hours gigs. Casper, a mattress store in New York, has even set up its store so each bed is in its own unique decorated bedroom, and has recently developed an insomnia app to connect with troubled sleepers. Engaging with consumers in these innovative ways is exactly what retailers need to do to secure and maintain interest in their products.
And what does all this innovation need? Inventive and flexible retail property that constantly stays up to date with demand and trends. As Steve Dennis, Forbes, 2018 said ‘Physical retail is not dead, boring retail is’.