‘The high street is dead, long live the high street: How to revive the struggling retail staple with
Headlines have hit the news in the past few years about the decline and near-death of high street shopping. What was once an indispensable leisure experience that children, teenagers and adults enjoyed has now become the reserve of those who can be bothered to go out to town centers to buy the items they need. There is no murder mystery of who done it to follow though, we all know it was eCommerce that did it.
Online shopping has seen a year-on-year growth for over a decade and it doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. In a short period of time it has taken up 16% of all retail expenditure, growing to a fifth of all retail purchases by the end of 2019. On Black Friday 2018, eCommerce was up by 6 percent while physical shopping was down by 3.6 percent. Even the notorious in-store rampages in rushing to get the best Black Friday deals have perished to the delight of many store assistants, having been replaced by the proliferation of deals that consumers can get online. They can simply compare deals across stores and ensure they are getting the best possible deal.
Also, many consumers are resorting to using online shopping to buy the products and items they need. With the convenience of free returns, same or next day deliveries and even door-step collections when sending back, the need to venture out becomes a need for the bored or brave. I mean when you can get what you need from the comfort of your own home, then why go through aisles and aisles of irrelevant products or enter a restricted cubicle to try on that new jumper. It’s not a matter of laziness, it’s just convenience.
All is not lost though, there is evidence that people still enjoy the shopping experience. The decline does not mean complete desertion. The deterioration can be overcome by a renaissance in the way that stores present themselves to their existing and potential customers. Truth is the way of stores being impersonal, indifferent and awkward is over, a warm, engaging and stimulating way is ready to take its place. In the past, there were passes given to stores that didn’t engage their customers as there was no eCommerce alternative, but in this new age of digital disruption second-rate service will not pass.
Stores need to be able to provide a service for customers that they simply won’t be able to forget. In-store campaigns need to be a must-see phenomenon that customers and passers-by feel compelled to visit rather than passively observe. While it is a tall order to make a short retail experience materially memorable, there needs to be a focus on ensuring that customers remember how they felt. Customers should be made to feel like they are what keeps the business running because the fact is that they do. Going beyond basic transactions devoid of personality is the key. While personal shopping was the reserve of the rich and famous, there is a need to open the gates to give shoppers the privilege of personality that the store can provide. Unforgettable, must-see and personal are the three words to remember. The undeniable fact is that retail stores must overcome the pull of convenience to bring those customers in.
High street stores must reinvent the experiences that consumers get from their spaces. Customer service isn’t just a buzzword but an actual experience from entrance to exit. Some
retailers have embraced a model like this for years, for example, LUSH Cosmetics have infamously become a meme for providing such a service. They have managed to combine the sociability of their staff along with giving customers individual and personal demonstrations of their products like their exciting and fizzling bath bombs. Their products make people feel emotion; they either strike awe or relax their customers, while these are immensely popular, the central part beyond their products is the appeal of their friendly staff. Going into a LUSH store is not just a purchasing practice but rather a full experience.
Staff are important to this new vision. Permanent staff are the lifeblood of any store; they are the face of the brand and work to keep the store running on a daily basis. Their work is targeted and thorough. Without permanent staff, stores would simply not be able to sustain themselves. Along with this, temporary staff would be a welcome addition to stores. Holding events to bring in and develop relationships with consumers by building a community will soon become a staple for stores that want to survive. Staff with a range of expertise and experience will be key in ensuring these are successful. They will also bring with them a fresh perspective and lively dynamism that will lighten these stores up.
In the age of fast responding online stores, physical stores will not be able to catch-up. The tortoise can’t catch-up to the hare on the basis of speed, but the difficulty of building a relationship through digital gives the face-to-face aspect of a physical presence an edge and will edge the tortoise to the finish line. Here’s to declaring the rebirth of the high street. Those that reform and reinvent themselves will stand the test of the gale of changes taking place in the way people shop and the changing marketplace. Providing memorable experiences will be paramount in this revolution and staff who can stand tall will be of superb value.
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