The Future of High Street
The term 'High Street' as used in the UK used in reference to main commercial streets of cities and towns, collectively (DBIS 2011). High street is largely viewed as a location in the city centre where retailing and shipping is usually conducted. Griffiths et al. (2008) describe the classic high street as a dynamic and intricate social-spatial entity that is progressively encountering specific challenges to its viability and vitality taking into account the ongoing cultural and economic change within society. Griffiths et al. (2008) thus view the term “high street” as encompassing cultural undertones of inspiritingly suburban or small town neighbourhoods typified by enduring local identity and social stability. For decades, the high streets in the UK functioned as the heart and soul of the UK local community. In this way, the high streets offered locals job opportunities, helped the local economy to thrive, offered convenience and were a source of leisure to locals (BBC News 2009). Following the global economic downturn several years ago, the high streets have come under increasing pressure to survive, and to benefit the local communities. Some local shops in the high street are no longer significant and as a result, no longer share a connection with the communities around them. At the risk of losing this connection, local communities are now implementing strategies to take control of the high streets once more. This is based on a growing realisation that the future of high street shall be localism, sustainability, and experiential marketing. The report therefore seeks to examine these three trends in more details, discuss successful cases on high street, and to propose viable solutions for the recovery of high street.
Trend 1: Sustainability
The sustainability of high streets in the UK moving forward is dependent on a number of factors. To begin with, there is need to attract high volumes of visitors to the high streets. Haill (2016) reports that in July, UK high streets attracted more shoppers in comparison with the previous month. However, this came at the expense of an increase in the number of empty stores on high streets, largely attributed to a combination of Brexit uncertainty and fewer pop-up shops. A convenient and efficient public transport system is necessary for supporting sustainable economic growth, and this includes the high street economy as well. As noted earlier, high streets are synonymous with urban city or town centres, which are well-served by various forms of reliable public transport (Deardon 2013). In addition, high street business operators have been shown to exude an above-average level of confidence while doing business and this is poised to propel their operations as they are hopeful of a brighter future, in spite of the low-downs in business that they may be currently faced with. The ATCM (Association of Town and City Management) has identified an after-hours economy as essential for high streets (Mannering 2013). Embracing a night-time economy would thus help to propel the high street economy. A key approach in ensuring the sustaining business in the high street is to embrace a public-private partnership as a means of dealing with the strategies issues that impact on the local town centres under review. Moreover, the high street offers shoppers more diverse products that meet the needs of customers with a wide range of budgets. What this means is that medium income earners, low income earners, and high incomes earners can all be accommodated by diverse offerings from the high street. This creates an attractive market for customers. In its report, the DBIS (2011) indicate that consumers are now more concerned with increased choices and more ‘experience’. This underscores the importance of high streets to take action on the changing markets, such as by offering something different to the customer, like specialist and culture shopping, as opposed to routine purchases (DBIS 2011).
Trend 2: Localism
Portas (2016) opines that the future of high streets is localism, and not big brands. It is important therefore that retail brands endevour to provide customized experiences to consumers in each location. Partas (2016) is critical of the previous and current Government for their role in letting high streets to decline through their action of failing to institute planning directives for large retail locations, in effect creating a “social problem”. Consequently, local people find themselves with where to go in their own localities (Barnett 2015). Proper connection between local governments and communities will go a long way in enhancing the localism. In this case, there is need to enforce legislations that give local councils the powers to promote the high street (Department for Communities and Local Government 2013). In addition, such laws would also enable councils to oppose out-of-town development. However, customer must find a variety, convenience, and new experiences so that they are less motivated to shop elsewhere. Such a community spirit is bound to support local producers through increased purchase of locally produced goods. Organising events such as fairs, carnivals, conferences, and cultural festivals will go a long way in facilitating the realisation of localism.
Trend 3: Experiential marketing
The growing popularity of e-commerce may spell doom to retail stores that preserved the conventional shop format (Kavvalos 2010). Nonetheless, there has been an increase in the number of consumers doing retail research online but who end up buying products at a physical store (Schmitt 2000). This is the clearest indication yet, that consumers still have a high appetite for the shopping experience that a physical store provides.
. Experiential marketing, by virtue of its unique characteristics such as adding value; being intuitive and unique; paying attention to consumers; and clearly expressing product benefits, would be ideal in promoting high street shopping experience (Smilansky 2009). Experiential marketing immerses customers in interactive, visual events, thereby bringing them closer to a brand. Besides, experiential marketing calls to mind appeals and emotion to the senses, as well as the brands that engage consumers or treat them to an unforgettable experience. This would therefore help to breathe life into high street once more by attracting customers to its unique experiences.
In an attempt to entice the modern-day consumer back to the high street, it is important to adopt detailed marketing strategies, such as the use of experiential marketing. In addition, various case studies have successfully employed ingenious solutions that we could also borrow. Deptdorf is an example of a town that has really embraced the high street culture. Its high street is characterized by diverse retail units such as art galleries, food shops stores, pound shops, as well as a mix of ethnic and traditional shops that reflects the tastes and preferences of the diverse ethnic groups like Caribbean, Nigerians, and Vietnamese, among others (Greater London Authority 2016). Deptford has witnessed a drastic transformation of its high street over the past three decades from the largely British butchers and shopper grocers in the e1980s (Association of Town & City Management 2013). In the past decade, there has bee there has been arise in the number of art galleries opened up in Deptford fuelled by the increase in then umber of new artists who have moved into the area. This is starting to regenerate people in the area, as evidenced by the number of pop-up shops, art galleries and art studies opening up.
Rotherham represents a growing number of town centres that have surmounted difficult odds to turn around its town centre and retail fortunes (Communities UK 2016). Rotherham emerged in the 19th century as a heavy industries town, mainly steel manufacture and coal mining. However, following the decline of these industries in the 19890s, the town was faced with a high level of unemployment, a development that also had a devastating impact on the town’s economic base. Amid growing competition for its shoppers form the Parkgate Shopping Centre and Sheffield’s Meadowhall Centre, Rotherham needed to revive its fortunes fast in a distinctive and unique way. The Renaissance programme that the town adopted encompass an aggressive marketing campaign, offering incentives to shoppers, giving financial assistance to investors, and the Empty Shops Imitative from the Government. Rotherham is one of the seven local areas that have been awarded £1 million High Streets Renewal Awards for having delivered the most innovative and effective plans in an attempt to bring life back to their town centres. In this respect, Rotherham has demonstrated exceptional leadership in delivering plans to transform their high street (Department for Communities and Local Governments 2013).
Altrincham has also won the High Street Renewal Award as a result of the innovative and interactive manner in which its retailers and landlords have been working in an effort to ensure that empty shops are operational once more. This is a clear indication of how a private/public sector partnership could be implemented in bringing back life to the high street. In this case, retailers and landlords have worked together and utilized windows of unoccupied shops to promote local businesses. An empty unit has also been concerted into a pop-up shop through an initiate spearheaded by local businesses and community representatives (Department for Communities and Local Government 2013). In an effort to complement this initiative, the local council has since lowered parking charges as a means of persuading people to visit the high street. Consequently, there has been a 58% rise in car park use (Department for Communities and Local Government 2013). Similar strategies to those at Rotherham have also been adopted in Wolverhampton, another Portas Pilot project that has also received the High Stree Innovation Fund. The city embarked ran a competition aimed at attracting investors. Another strategy adopted by the city was to offer entrepreneurs nearly £50,000 in business support. This prize package consisted of renting a shop free of charge for up to six months, assistance with business running costs, contribution towards business rates, and mentoring and training support (Association of Town & City Management 2013).
Solution 1: Experiential marketing
Retail stores in local towns and cities can could adopt experiential marketing by scrapping branded products in their stores with the goal of providing a more intuitive and intimate shopping experience. Such an experiential approach is poised to engage the experiences of shoppers. Alternatively, new investors could be encouraged to first begin with pop-up shops as it is easier to change your products and meet consumer demand than is the case with bigger stores (The Guardian 2015). Such flexibility would enable retailers to react swiftly to the changing consumer preferences and in this way, gain an edge over other bigger stores.
Solution 2: Social media
High street retailers can also use social media to allows customers to influence and comment on product lines and in this way, renew their relationships with customers (Dunleavy 2012). Local businesses should also consider using social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to interact with their customers. These tools could prove useful in introducing new products or post updates to their customers.
Solutions 3: Omni-channel
Omni-channel refers to a multi-channel approach to a business’ sales with the goal of offering seamless shopping experience to your customers, regardless of whether one is dealing with customers in a brick and mortar store or in online shopping. The ability of retail stores on the high street to enable their customers to regularly be in contact with the organisation via various channels simultaneously gives them a different and rewarding experience (Dholakia et al. 2005). Besides, omni-channel affords customers the privilege of dictating how a certain transaction shall occur. The business puts in place processes and systems to facilitate such customer transaction (McGoldrick & Collins 2007), effectively leading to seamless customer experience.
If at all we are to safeguard the future of UK High Street, it is important to adopt some of the solutions that have been implemented successfully in various cities and towns across the country to promote localism. One such strategy is the use for social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to launch and advertise new products, and to provide retail store updates to customers. Another ingenious strategy is to forms partnerships between landlords and retailers so that they can use windows of empty shops to advertise businesses. Relying on an omni-channel; would also help to provide seamless customers experience, as would experiential marketing.
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