I commented on each of Mary Portas’ 28 recommendations in my earlier blog. I now want to focus on what I feel is missing, certainly at a glance, from the review. The internet has fundamentally changed the consumers expectation of what the shopping experience should be. High street retail can still play a critical role in the overall retail service delivery, but, there needs to be a shift in mindset. Something that’s been talked about for a good 5 years but rarely effectively implemented…
Delivering a truly joined up multi-channel service experience
It’s not new news that the multi-channel shopper is worth 130% of a single channel shopper; experts at businesses such as K3 Retail have been saying this for a couple of years.
What are new and impressive stats are that:
- about 60% of consumers research online with the intent of buying in store
- 10% of online transactions are now for click and collect
So anyone who thinks the high street doesn’t have relevance is wrong!
What role should the evolving high street play?
What matters for the survival of the high street is that it can evolve to support current and future needs and wants of the community it serves. Each should be different; clone towns will become a thing of the past (thank goodness)!
Retailers such as Ryman and a few others have had the sense to add courier collection points to some of their stores – they’re increasing footfall (and therefore the opportunity for impulse purchase) in their high street locations by offering a service. Ecommerce only retailers, such as Figleaves and Amazon, are also offering various solutions for local collection points that take away the time-based element (and thus inconvenience) of home delivery.
In a future vision of the high street I believe shops will play the role of showrooms and collection points, most orders can be made online or via mobile. Interaction with product and advice from well trained staff will still be necessary for some purchases. Less retail property will be needed, that’s almost certain, BUT the high street needs to play a role in the community that it serves.
In a future vision that high street probably has a reasonable array of retail – from a Tesco Express, or similar small-format supermarket, to a variety of unique independents. The overall amount of retail space will reduce making way for more experiential and service related B2C businesses – from day care to libraries, from betting shops to beauty salons. There may be a need to redevelop some property into housing too; bring the consumer closer to the service providers.
The crux of the future will be about each high street being relevant and tailored to the needs and wants of the community it serves.
The internet only accounts for a fraction of overall retail sales…
Whilst clearly there is a shift towards online shopping, and this will be a trend for the long term, online sales are presently only a fraction of the overall retail sales that come from “bricks and mortar”. We must not loose sight of this. There are still a vast proportion of shoppers who DO visit the high street, who need local goods and services. Parking may well be irrelevant to them – they either don’t drive, can’t drive or can’t afford to drive – depending on public transport and accessible shopping. The elderly, students, low income families – all need an accessible high street.
Many people report that they still enjoy the social aspect of going to their local high street – and regardless of how engaged we are online and how tied to “facebook on the mobile” we still need face to face interactions!
Others simply like to browse the products, to be inspired by the visual merchandising and to enjoy the “sensational” aspects of a visit to the shops – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.
How can the failing high streets be turned around?
There are high streets which are in a downward spiral and these are the ones that some of the suggestions made by Mary Portas in the high street review can really help (especially around BIDs and rates). These need a co-ordinated effort to create a sustainable platform for businesses, employment and the community.
Others, where there are customers still willing to spend, need to focus on their customer engagement – attraction, conversion, retention and encouraging advocacy. My experience, and one echoed by Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London, is that too many retailers and their staff particularly are delivering seriously POOR SERVICE. Vanessa had a feature on air on both 16th and 17th of November 2011 about how she was “trying to buy” an item. She was overwhelmed by callers who also had “tried to buy” items but retailers had neither stock nor much inclination to sell to them. Where has the passion gone? Where has the service ethic gone? Why is no one hungry to make the sale anymore? Well that’s a whole other blog… I can talk about my own “trying to buy” experience in Phones4U in St Albans high street too!
So, what is the magic formula to save the high streets?
There isn’t one, and anyone who thought Mary Portas could create it will be disappointed. That’s not any reflection on how much Mary did achieve, but simply their expectations were too high and this will take a LONG time.
Each town centre has it’s unique needs. Local authorities need to have the ability to apply a mix of measures to promote sustainable business in their areas. Business owners need to be sure that their proposition is appropriate for the local catchment area and plan their costs in detail to ensure their trade will support the rent, rates, utilities and staffing costs both now and in the future (assuming increasing cost base for the timebeing).
I am sorry that there is no quick fix, but, to echo 3 words that I think do encapsulate the purpose and the feeling being the Portas Review, it’s going to be about “communication, collaboration and compromise”.
Lets hope that the actions resulting from this bring about some positive change in 2012.