Retail crystal-ball gazing…

I’m reading too many articles about the death of the high street and felt compelled to comment. I believe any decline in the high street is the result of a significant digital transition requiring significant physical reinvention. 

It’s not dead, just changing, and many have been slow to react to the required changes, clearly demonstrated by those who have sadly fallen by the wayside, or are slowly slipping… Barnes & Noble shares have dropped by 75% over the last 12years chiefly due to the rise of Amazon. A pity the recent deal by shrewd WH Smith to buy the business didn’t reach fruition, but maybe the purchase of InMotion US-based airport retailer is a smarter move, to expand their own profitable travel retail operation. And the likes of Marks & Spencer who are instigating change and Steve Rowe is keen I sense to make change, but just too slow across fashion and food. For say 10years out of tune, and an ageing consumer, presents a mountain to climb, but I would like to see it happen and believe it can, but it needs bold and deep change. We need a stalwart on the high street, albeit a more savvy one. My own spending with the brand is telling- occasional, not regular food purchases, and regarding fashion over the last 12months, the purchase of a belt. Simply because one early morning I forgot to put one on! After one emergency wear, it will no doubt end up in a charity shop soon.

Online can deliver growth that most bricks-and-mortar retailers can only dream of, but the high street and our city centres are not going to shrink in size or disappear, but require architectural reinvention, and will start to contain a different assortment, and behave and look differently.

Ok, regarding the UK high street, it could possibly benefit from a two-tier rent/rates system to support and encourage independents, and uncertainty over the post-Brexit landscape does bring hesitancy (brand and consumer)- but do nothing, stand still….and failure will eventually result.

‘Shops’ is increasingly becoming an old fashioned term and an ineffective format for retail on an global scale. The retail portfolio template of flagship, boutique, edge of town, and concession is no longer relevant to the present day (and future) consumer. Brands need, and many are, reconsidering the role of their real estate, and certainly the old model of store formats being simply cookie-cutter, or a diluted version drawn down from the flagship, is simply not good enough. And this is relevant whether you are a national high street chain, department store, or international high-end luxury.

A brand that considers its physical expression in ‘new retail’ formats will prosper. Gatehouse, launch-pad, atelier, or temple are some of the terms we are talking with our clients about (both physical and digital brands)… to define both the purpose and the physical expression. Overlaid with wow!, experience, and service. Over used words possibly, but not when truly drilling down into each, and the many facets that these can be curated, expressed, and interwoven into a physical dynamic- with genuine brand DNA, depth and omni-integration.

And how we shop having crossed the threshold of a store, has radically changed… so the content, adjacencies, and visual merchandising all need to also up their game.

By omni-integration, this is not just your web, but needs to be across all social media channels. With the likes of Instagram having over 1 billion mobile photo sharing monthly users, we are more and more designing in to physical spaces ‘Instagram-able’ backdrops and moments. For example the loo’s at Hershesons are frequently used as a backdrop for sharing a new hair-style!

Oh, and ‘agility’ is a must. Don’t create and abandon, but create and agitate. Allow your brand to breathe life, grow, and design in swift adaptability.

The term, being ‘entrepreneurial’, appears to have been replaced with being a ‘disruptor’. Disruption is doing something different and shaking up a market sector. But can be short-lived if just being different simply for the sake of being different, or to make some noise. Although many of our clients might be described by some as disruptors, including the likes of, Vashi, VDVC- I feel they are more than that. Entrepreneurialism runs through their veins, and they are visionary, have a clear business goal, are tactical, and corral belief and enthusiasm around them in abundance! Are names like John Spedan Lewis, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos disruptors or entrepreneurs? I would suggest the latter, as it also implies commercial astuteness. With the likes of John Spedan Lewis, his passion for the game of chess offers an insight into his tactical skills.

Create a partnership of entrepreneur and designer, and you can certainly cause disruption. Long lasting and eardrum-ringing commercial disruption.

I can envisage with crystal-ball accuracy (and optimism) the new high street- it’s not simply boarded-up shopfronts, coffee shops and vape shops- but much much more, and it really excites me…