As more and more businesses announce administration, there seems to be an air of failure that the high street just can’t seem to shake these past few years. Many big players including Toys R Us, Poundworld, Mothercare, Office, Maplin and more have shut up shop recently, and there are a whole host of reasons the public would blame.
“Everything is online now, who needs to visit a real store anymore” one might say, while another may contend that “Brexit means that we’re holding on to our money instead of spending it in the high street”. Both are justified validations that of course would no doubt contribute to the decline of retail sales in recent times, but do I believe that these factors – amongst others – barely scratch the surface when we’re talking about the high street and its existence. Or rather, what is up with the whole affair.
Offline retail is riddled with its problems, and is constantly battling with its popular counterpart: online retail. Nevertheless, I think what many say – that the high street is dead – is a far cry from the truth. It’s not deceased, it’s not even dying – it’s just transforming into something more innovative, more engaging and more revolutionary than it’s ever been before.
The process wherein a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly is called metamorphosis. And for me, it’s the perfect metaphor to what’s happening to offline retail at the moment. Retail stores in the high street are as common as anything, and nobody really appreciated them for what they were until they started to disappear. But of those who are surviving the hardships, and have learned how to cocoon, well they are soon to transform into something much better than before.
It’s just an opinion of course, but it’s one I hold very strongly, and that’s down to two main factors.
Digital Can Compliment The High Street
Firstly (and not because I’m biased because I truly believe I have the best job in the world) I believe a massive contributing factor to the evolution of the high street is down to digital and technological advances. I place tremendous value in the work that we do within the digital remit for brands and businesses with a large high street presence, but that’s not because I’m conceited – it’s because I can see quite clearly that it works.
It was bittersweet for me when Poundworld went into administration. I’d worked for the company for just short of 4 years before leaving to focus on my studies and my then-internship at Tecmark. Nevertheless, I can’t help but to pin some of, if not most, of the blame on their inability to grasp the concept and the worth of having a digital tier to a business model. Having worked within the organisation for so long, I know they placed no emphasis on digital at all really. Having a website or a sound online marketing strategy was of no importance to them, yet here we are a few years down the line seeing the brand cease to exist. Over the water on the other hand, in the competitors playing field, I know for a fact that some of Poundworld’s top challengers are heavily investing in digital, SEO, local search etc. And interestingly, they are the companies that boast record turnovers year on year while their competition crumbles around them.
The impact that digital marketing can have on your business is huge. Did you know that out of all local searches (typing in on Google “where to buy dog food near me”, for example) 50% of consumers who conducted the search visited a store within that very same day? This speaks volumes for digital marketing and its importance in itself.
With the right strategies in place, digital can increase your footfall and strengthen your brand’s rapport. Organisations won’t get anywhere if they blame the internet for their demise. The ones that recognise that the scope is changing, and use it to their advantage instead, are the ones that are really winning.
The High Street Experience Is Changing
And my second reasoning for the contention that the high street isn’t dying is that there is more and more evidence to support the fact that brands can not only survive, but thrive in today’s business climate. So long as they understand the market in which they operate in, that is.
What I mean by this is, it’s no coincidence that the companies that are failing are the ones who failed to evolve with the times. Toys R Us themselves blamed their defeat on the fact that ultimately they were too stuck-in-their-ways to change. They failed to adapt to a developing consumer base and business climate, and it cost them their company.
My inspiration for this blog post was in fact sparked by this very topic of debate. I recently read a Sky News article by Adam Parsons which couldn’t have depicted everything I’ve been saying for the past few years better. Parsons argued that the high street isn’t dying, it’s simply “changing, morphing in ways we wouldn’t have predicted a decade or so back.”
What this means is that shopping is no longer about heading into a store, picking up what you need and heading back out again. Brands ought to be less focused on their footfall numbers, and more focused on their customer retention rate. How long can they keep their consumers in the store? That’s what really counts. A study by TIME found that time really is money, and you’re actually scientifically more likely to spend more money in a store the longer you spend in there. This is where a lot of high street retailers have gone wrong previously.
Nowadays, shopping should be more about the experience and less about the sales. Big names like Primark and LUSH (despite them binning off social media, which I don’t agree with) have already realised this and jumped on board. Primark for example, just opened it’s biggest ever store in Birmingham city centre. Which comes equipped with a barbers, a nail salon, a resturant, and interactive Disney and Harry Potter hubs. One of the first of its kind, you can only imagine the kind of popularity that this kind of offering has brought. And, not forgetting the endgoal, how many people have entered Primark and have walked out again only with what they intended to buy? (I don’t think that’s ever happened for me). With popularity comes sales, and this is where Primark have it absolutely locked down.
Summed up in a sentence (or two), this is what the matter is with the high street: brands are focusing too heavily on e-commerce and are forgetting the benefits of a digital strategy to increase offline footfall. And the same brands are focusing too much on getting people in and out of their stores, and lacking in the creative ideas they need to deploy to attract and keep customers.
In closure, the high street isn’t dying, it never has been. It’s simply moving with the times as all good ventures do; and the only ones who are being left behind are those who aren’t sophisticated enough to embrace the evolution.