The ‘Retail Futures 2018’ report predicts that 60,000 shops will close by 2018. On top of this figure, the latest numbers from the CBI this week show retail sales plunging at their fastest rate for 17 months. It’s not pleasant reading and neither is it a new prediction. Retailers are unfortunately familiar with the rhetoric of doom and gloom that has enveloped the sector since the recession.
In a feature this week Rebooting the High Street, Marketing Week looks at how retailers need to work together if they want to encourage shoppers back to high streets and into stores.
According to the report by retail agency Live and Breathe, 73 per cent of UK consumers do care that high streets are in decline, however a separate survey out this week by comparison site Broadbandchoices.co.uk claims that a third of consumers now do most of their shopping online with a further 25 per cent expecting to do more online in the future.
The truth is we might feel nostalgic about high streets and say we want to be able to visit a thriving town centre and pop into numerous different, locally owned stores to make our purchases, but that’s not really what we want to do in practice. It’s not convenient and it’s not appealing. Until brands make it so, we will continue to read reports about the decline of the high street at the hands of mobile and digital.
Rather than accepting the writing is on the wall for physical stores and weighting marketing investment and efforts on to ecommerce and the digital side of things, any retail marketer worth their salt will already be thinking and communicating differently about stores.
Retailers and high streets that will survive the predicted closures are those who are using digital and mobile to supplement their physical environments and those who use physical stores to go beyond selling and transactions and create a brand space.
Shops can’t rely on differentiating solely on the products they sell. Unless they are a particularly niche, or bespoke retailer offering something exclusive and suitably different from the competition, the products will inevitably be available elsewhere or online. What will differentiate is the experience and that experience has to go beyond the four walls of each individual store. It has to expand into the local area. Stores have to become social, more convenient and offer a benefit that can’t be achieved elsewhere.
The kind of co-operation between businesses suggested by Live and Breathe’s study probably doesn’t feel natural to retailers who are traditionally fiercely competitive. It relies on brands recognising that working together is for the greater good. Perhaps getting more people to come to your store will also encourage shoppers to visit your competitor down the high street but the potential benefits are clear.