So far this month 3 of the UK’s high street giants have bitten the dust – HMV, Jessops and today Blockbuster. This should come as no surprise as we, The People, have headed out of their stores and moved swiftly through the doors of the online world. So the Big Question in my mind now is what will our high streets look like in 5 years time?
It’s worth watching current trends to get a sneak preview:
Don’t Dupe Us (Large Greedy Corporates)
Take the new coffee shop Harris and Hoole who, claiming to be ‘a family affair’ is targeting those wishing to support the independents and luring them away from the Starbucks of this world. Yet when the coffee sippers got whiff of the fact that Harris and Hoole was in fact 49% owned by Tescos many were not impressed. People don’t like being duped. When they realise they are, then the heckles rise – leading some to do the most curious of things .
Support Our Local Pop Ups
Pop ups are currently all the rage. Supporting start ups and SME’s is at least one way of utilising empty spaces left by the broken retailers with even the government doing it’s bit by opening a store within the Department for Communities and Local Government in Westminster where six small retailers move in every two weeks.
But pop ups aren’t just popping up on the high streets. Taking this concept one step further I visited the Medway Open Studios event one weekend before Christmas where makers opened up their own houses to show and sell their products. One street in Rochester had 6 houses open to the public where anyone could freely walk in, meet the owners, browse their goods and purchase (if you felt so inclined – which I did). Could this be a sign of things to come?
Merging online and offline? We can handle that…
Why pay £70.00 for an item on the high street when you can pay £54.00 on Amazon and get it delivered to your door? For most of us these days shopping online really is no big deal. Only last week I was told by an extremely frosty manager of one high street clothing outlet that, despite my having shopped there for 15 years and spending £100’s each year with them that “no”, I could not return a sale item I had bought the day before even if I did want a refund of just £30.00 but intended spending £140.00 on other items there and then instead. I went home to Amazon armed with my size details and product code and saved myself £38.00. I will now only use that high street shop to try on items, make a note of my size, then jump online to purchase it. Had the manger been given the authority to accept my explanation – rather than strict training around company returns policies – they would not have lost me. Herein lies a lesson for the large chains to take on board. The importance now of a truly personalised service and why chain stores need to let their managers act like independents and allow them to make their own rational decisions.
Yet done right retailers can take full advantage of the merging of our online and offline purchasing habits. John Lewis appear to have got it right in terms of their customers willingness to merge the bricks and mortar experience with their online shopping. Econsultancy notes how, compared with the same period in 2011 their like-for-like sales was up 13% in the 5 weeks to December 29 2012 and their online sales grew almost three times faster at 44.3% – accounting for a quarter of all group sales. Econsultancy goes on to give a great summary of 14 key reasons as to how they achieved it – and highlights how 40% of their shoppers used their reserve online and collect over Christmas service.
While bricks and mortar sort out their online stores so online stores are emerging onto the High Street. Looking to the future Social Commerce Today discusses Ebay’s London Pop Up in Covent Garden:
“In truth, the eBay pop-up store works more as a concept and vision – rather than efficient shopping tool… But we like it because it outlines what an Amazon-proof retail strategy of the future could look like
- Event based – opportunistic, temporary pop-up around a popular shopping/calendar event
- Experiential – re-imagines sensorial shopping in a fun interactive way with technology consumers know and love
- Efficient – or ‘asset-light‘ in Mary Meeker Speak – low cost retail solution that bridges the artificial online/offline shopping divide”
So there is a future for our high streets – if done correctly.
Social Experiences Please
Perhaps what we’re really looking at then is a return of a high street which is as much about a social experience as it is about purchasing items. A glimmer of hope in this direction appears in the world of book stores which, with the introduction of eBooks, many thought would make books stores on the high street a thing of the past. In the past 10 years the number of independent booksellers in Britain has halved – yet in August 2012 a report by the Booksellers Association found that the number of children’s bookshops in the UK had risen in the previous year from 36 to 40. As the Independent points out:
“On high streets across the country, bookshops are fighting back and finding imaginative ways to attract customers, from bookshops with in-house ice-cream parlours and pirate ship-shaped crèches, to those with gift shops and on-site gigs.”
Perhaps if HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster had looked to creating experiences for their clients and offering more than just products in supermarket style rows their demise could have been averted.
In truth though we don’t necessarily have to look so much ahead as look back to one great innovator of our high streets to relearn this lesson. Mr Selfridge, who back in 1909 opened Selfridges and coined the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is said to have ‘put the fun back into shopping’ which he did with great gusto. If providing the first public demonstration of television in the store in 1925 and housing a seismograph which recorded an earthquake in Belgium in 1938 wasn’t enough then the miniature golf course (now reinstated) and all girls gun club on the roof (sadly not reinstated ) should give us some inspiration for today.