Overcoming the high street blues

Sarah Todd
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Our CEO David Buckingham shares his thoughts with Retail & Leisure International on how to adopt change and make sure this isn’t the death of the high street.

For the last few years, we’ve been asking if the high street is dead. If recent media headlines are anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes.

The high street certainly seems to be struggling. High profile store closures have been prevalent over the last few years, but retail really hit a slump with the demise of BHS in 2016, a brand well-known to shoppers since the 1920s. The likes of Maplin, Toys R Us, and Mothercare followed suit, all experiencing financial issues and store closures. Most recently, the news that 22 Debenhams stores will close as a result of the brand going into administration has hit the headlines. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the last we hear of store closures and retailers in distress.

It’s not the end
However, despite the constant negativity, it’s not quite the end for the high street, it just needs to adapt; to new market conditions, increasingly demanding shoppers, and the continued advance of e-commerce retailers. And it’s not just up to the stores, but town centres and the high street itself, evolving to meet customer needs by transforming to become more attractive to shoppers, including perks such as free parking and pedestrian-only spaces.

The story of success
Some stores are taking this revitalisation to heart, adapting to these new conditions and finding success in attracting and retaining customers. In the U.S., the department store chain Macy’s has reinvented itself by unveiling a new way of engaging with its customers. As a fixture in city centres since the 1800s, Macy’s claims to be ‘reinventing retail’ by using STORY, an editorial storytelling approach, to bring new life to merchandising. The concept stores will focus on one merchandising theme at a time, and completely change every few months.

In a press release on the company website, Jeff Gennette, Macy’s, Inc. chairman & chief executive officer, said: “The discovery-led, narrative experience of STORY gives new customers a fresh reason to visit our stores and gives the current Macy’s customer even more reason to come back again and again throughout the year”.

In Europe, Austrian billionaire René Benko bought the German chain of department stores, Kaufhof, which has just merged with the country’s other major chain, Karstadt, also owned by Benko. In a recent interview, he stated that he was positive about the future of the department store in general, especially in Germany where they are located in bustling city centres. But he added that they need to do more than merely sell products; they need to evolve into a “luxury urban marketplace” that smoothly meshes with online retail – an approach that is working successfully for his Austrian brand Tyrol, following a redesign.

Adapting to change
Looking at the UK high street specifically, the future of physical stores depends on their ability to compete with online retailers, while giving shoppers a reason to come into stores. This could mean using innovative tactics such as Macy’s narrative approach to merchandising, relying on collaborations with other brands, or looking to transform the in-store environment.

Experiential marketing is having a positive impact for many retailers; turning shopping from being a chore, to being more of an experience. The recent opening of Primark’s new flagship store in Birmingham is a good example of a retailer bringing this to life.

The store, the largest Primark in the world, includes a range of experiences to attract shoppers into store, encourage them to stay in-store for longer, and keep them engaged once they’re inside. From a barber and nail salon, to in-store restaurants and free Wi-Fi, the retailer is using various tools and tactics to drive shoppers back to the store and encourage engagement with the brand.

Technology can play a major role here, from empowering sales staff with tablets, to streamlining the payment process and eliminating frustrating queues at the point of sale. The point of sale itself can evolve to become more interactive, enabling mobile staff to take payments wherever they are in-store, as well as adding functionality that can add to the overall customer experience, such as using data to create relevant and personalised offers and messages and deliver them to shoppers at the till.
Then there’s the use of digital signage to entice and inform shoppers, innovative uses of augmented reality and virtual reality installations, and practical technologies like self-help kiosks that bring the same level of choice and convenience of online shopping into the physical store.

The future is bright
The future success of brick and mortar retail hangs on many things. It’s about finding what works for individual brands and stores, whether that’s an increase in the use of technology, collaboration with other brands, or employing new marketing approaches. Retailers that embrace these, and other opportunities wholeheartedly are likely to be at the forefront of the high street fight back.

About Retail Leisure & International
Retail & Leisure International is the only global magazine to cover both retail and leisure sectors.

Dedicated to the retail and leisure markets, the magazine incorporates global news, interviews with CEOs of leading retailers and global hotel operators, specialist features, profiles and regular industry insights, all combined to offer the reader insight and analysis into the impact of retail and leisure development on the industry as a whole.

You can view the latest edition here. Find Ecrebo on page 32. 


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