Wherever you turn these days there’s always another story about the looming death of the British High Street. Another victim has been uncovered, another casualty stoically vows to keep limping forward towards another inevitable demise. Record numbers of units sit empty. Major brands and chains wobble. So as an independent retailer, what’s to be made of all of this doom and gloom?
If you have a shop, is it time to cut your losses and run? And if you’re thinking about opening one, you would be forgiven for pondering ‘Am I out of my mind?’. And whether you’re directly involved in the sector or not, you may well be asking, how did it come to this?
Well the good news is, that it isn’t all bad news. The High Street is changing for sure, there’s no doubt about it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the High Street that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to know and love looks remarkably different from our own. However, the good news is there will be a high street to love.
The current situation is one that has arisen out of growth, more specifically quick and (for want of a better word) greedy growth. When the economy was in boom the western world became about possessions and stuff. We couldn’t get enough, and luckily for us, big brands couldn’t be happier to sell if to us. Win-win, right?
The problem with this growth, was that big brands started growing up too quickly, at times lacking the appropriate long-term vision and strategy and inflating commercial real estate prices along with it. At the time everyone was benefiting from this boom. Everyone thrived from an economy built on bigger, faster and better than the Jones’. But like all things in life and on earth, what goes up, must come down.
Down came the economy, down came the thirst for stuff (to an extent anyway - more on that later) and down came big retail. The bubble had burst, leaving behind an over-inflated marketplace. Shops were too big. Brands lacked focus. Rents were too high. The retail economy started to free-fall.
Of course at the same time that all of this was happening, a second and equally serious threat was building in the market place. The rise of the online retailers. Led by Amazon, and single handedly crushing any remaining hope that retailers were holding onto. If you can sell it they can too, but cheaper, with greater choice and from the comfort of the customers own couch.
That’s it then. Retail is dead. Time to flip the sign to closed one last time. What’s the point?
The thing is, it’s not that simple…
From the outside the press love to shout about the demise of the British High Street, and as we’ve seen on closer inspection things aren’t looking so great. Yet somehow, beneath the surface, things aren’t quite as they seem at all.
Like the metaphorical phoenix from the flame, amidst the rubble and dust of the crumbling world of retail that we know, is something that many didn’t expect…
Small shoots of green, proudly pushing up through the wreckage. Shaking off the past, and proving all of the naysayers wrong. In fact Fast Track 100, found 32 of the UK’s fastest growing businesses were retailers, so how can this be?
The fact is that that people will always want and need stuff, and they will always want and need experiences. In fact in the growing digital age, they possibly want interactive experiences more than ever. Only now the ‘stuff’ they want is being categorised in two ways. Stuff they need - the practical and stuff they want - the experience.
Of course there’s cross over between the two. But when the desire for something we need goes from a need, to a want - for example, most people need soap, however when we’ve decided we want a top brand with incredible features and benefits and a divine smell - we’ve crossed from a need (practical) to a want (experience).
And this is where the new British High Street comes in. If people are looking for racks upon racks of clothes, or shelves piled high with cheap similar products, to be honest it’s easier to browse online. Where you can filter by category, style or occasion. However, what’s harder to create online, is an experience. An interaction. Something memorable and real.
The future of the retailer, is not in their ability to compete with Amazon, to offer the biggest range, the best price, to provide a one stop shop, not anymore. The future of the retailer is in a less is more approach. To do something so well, to such a good quality, in such a unique way, that the experience leaves customers coming back for more and more.
To put it another way, Apple is well known for being one of the most impressive and forward thinking businesses in the world. A company with those credentials doesn’t invest the money required to open 36 stores in the UK if it believes it’s a dying market. Apple saw the future of retail coming before many more experienced brands who should know better, and created a store that was niche and based in experience, and as a result, it thrives.
Retail isn’t dead.
The question for retailers right now is…
Are you ready to evolve with it?
If you're ready to elevate yourself and your retail business, bring in more customers, connect and become part of something bigger, you can find out about The Independent Retailers Association Here