High Street footfall figures falling. Major retailers turning over £millions going into administration. A public not spending unnecessary money.
This is the story up and down the UK at the moment, with some commentators predicting a loss of 40% of High Street retail outlets in the next few years.
Perhaps it’s up to marketers to solve the puzzle. Here’s some thinking to get you started.
OK, omnipotent as those of us in the marketing industry are, we can’t do anything about the British weather (rain is being blamed for keeping people away from the shops). And, on a macro-scale, we can’t do anything about the double-dipper we’re currently plunging into like the log flume at Chessington.
However, there’s one area where we can add significant value – overall business strategy. And I say we start with the basic paradigm of the High Street.
Let me ask you a question: When is the High Street open for you to spend your money in?
There are 168 hours in a week.
Of these, High Street shops are open for around 56 of these (0900 – 1730 each day, 0900 – 1730 on a Saturday and, if you’re extremely lucky, 1100 – 1600 on a Sunday).
Within these 56 hours, individuals (like myself) who work for a living can access the glories of our local High Streets for a maximum of 19 hours (1 hour at lunchtime IF we work in a town, 0900 – 1730 Saturday and 1100 – 1600 on a Sunday). This is if we have nothing else to do (like pay bills, go to meetings, sort the kids out etc) and aren’t following the UK trend of working longer and longer, often missing lunch breaks.
Can you think of any other destination which is so completely and utterly unavailable to the majority of the working public?
As marketers, we need to make our customers’ lives easier by being in the right place, at the right time and with the right offer (product) to maximise their proclivity to purchase.
We also know from research, that less stressed customers buy more than stressed ones.
Put these two things together.
High Streets aren’t available at the right time. When I finish work at 5pm, can I get into the stores before they close? If I can, have I got more than 30 minutes (less if I have to find somewhere to park, in the rush hour) to browse and complete my purchases?
High Streets are stressful. Go anywhere on a Saturday morning and you’ll fight to park, dodge screaming children around the stores, wait in line for ages.
Frankly, it’s easier and more preferable to shop in your pants while sipping a coffee and reclining on your sofa, balancing a laptop on your knees.
What we need to do is change the paradigm and move High Streets into the 21st Century.
We need to shift the retail tactics to a model which is more centred around the consumer buying stuff than the business selling stuff (it’s a very important difference).
Shops should open later in the morning and close later in the evening. Toronto was a superb example of this – even HMV didn’t open until 10am, but then the doors didn’t shut until 7pm or later – every day. This meant that workers could drift around stores in the evenings, drip-feeding their shopping habits throughout the week rather than trying to cram it all in to the weekend (along with everybody else).
Retailers need to take a long, hard look at the Sunday Trading Laws, and decide if they want to challenge the Government over them.
As a consumer, I want something when I want it. If it’s available on the High Street and I can get there in one of my 18 allotted hours (which is actually 13 because I can’t get to a major centre in my lunch break), I’ll buy it there. If the store is shut, I’ll go to Tesco or buy online.
We need to embrace scan and scram. We’re not going to change this trend (unless we trade on price alone). So we need to work with our retail centres to improve the free WiFi provision (and not BT OpenZone. That’s not free access) in our High Streets and work with retailers to ensure that their websites are up to date, accessible from mobile devices and ecommerce enabled.
Finally, we need to deliver an experience. High Street shopping isn’t a great experience at the moment. Stressed people, unavailable stores, empty shops – it can be pretty damn depressing. We, marketers, need to look at our local offerings, work with the communities to uncover their local cultures and suffuse the High Street with reasons for shoppers to visit. Give them something to remember, not an indenti-kit offering.
Why is this up to marketers?
Simple. We should have strategic oversight and tactical specialisms to make this happen. We should understand people. We should be able to understand place. We should be able to influence strategy and produce a great tactical campaign at the other end.
We’re not retailers. But we don’t need to be. Retailers need to retail to the people on the street. We should be getting them there in the first place.
Fixing the UK’s High Streets won’t be easy. But by taking a long, hard look at their purpose and relationship to the spending public, we can start to build a model that works for business, delivers profits for retailers and delivers a less stressful experience for the consumer.
Have you got any experience in working for the betterment of local High Streets and retail offerings? If so, I would love to hear from you – so please, comment below!
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
Image for this post comes from madam3181’s Flickr Photo Stream and used under Creative Commons