It used to be said that 'we (The British) are a nation of shopkeepers' but based on recent times you would be hard pressed to believe this is the case today if you read the article (link below) from the BBC news site.
During the first half of 2019 circa 3000 stores disappeared from the UK High Street, and with the most critical final 2 quarters of the year approaching in the run up to the hyper active, highly discounted festive season unfortunately I suspect there will be more to follow.
The fall out from this isn't just the shareholders, it isn't the 'management team', they will go elsewhere with a chunky payoff and repeat the same internalised ivory tower thinking that created the problem, it's the front line staff and families along with the associated supply chain that continue to feel the true burden of all of this, both in their pocket, and with the disgruntled consumer.
I've seen some great small towns reinvent themselves, the really good ones that came through were long ago abandoned by the retail multiples that created homogenized US style versions of a shopping mall, that wherever you went, looked and felt no different than any other town or city, and along with the 'multiple retail model' we got the 'multiple retail experience' with shitty non personal service, which in my opinion misses a few huge things that makes, well, retail, retail.....
There are some great benchmark towns around the UK doing some awesome stuff creating immersive experiences which encourages genuine dwell time and advocacy, they do this through working with local people and businesses to deliver something the community feels happy to support, this ranges from food festivals, to artisan markets covering all kinds of goods and creativity that support local entrepreneurs who in turn support the local economy, which after all is how all towns and cities grew over the centuries.
And what does today's consumer do when they've visited these food markets, food halls, festivals, and artisan markets, they post pictures of what/where they are eating, who they are with and in an socially digital instant give it a free good/bad review, all on social media to their friends and family.
Visit any town today and one of the biggest turn offs for people is the crazy one way systems designed by town planners back in the heady retail days of 80's, along with the exorbitant car parking fees to be found on any spare plot of land, something else people constantly complain about via social media.
Sure our obsession with 2-3 cars per household in a country with small roads hasn't helped, back in the 80's this simply encouraged further investment into 'out of town' developments which in turn supported the continuation of the homogenized retail multiple blandness that has now decimated our local high street, and is now turning us away from the same homogenized shopping centres, try taking the train into your city centre, and if you can get a car parking space, avoid the overly expensive 'Dick Turpin' style car parks at said train station.
And then came eCommerce......
It took over 100 years for 'mail order' to reach 10% of retail sales, when eCommerce arrived it took just 10 years, yet some on the struggling high street chose to simply add a website rather than look holistically at how this new medium could be used to improve the relationship and experience with its customers.
They thought that having a website was innovation, they thought 'click and collect' was innovation, they thought that putting an iPad in a store so someone who had made the journey around the one way system, then fought for a hard won car parking space that cost them the best part of £5 for a few hours was innovation, they thought that asking for our e-mail address so they could send us the receipt and add us to their spammy 'buy this' newsletter was innovation.
Being in any kind of business is always a tricky thing, and traditional retail is of course encumbered with many upfront fixed cost before a new store is opened and a penny even goes into the tills, the only key variable cost they can dial up/down is the management and staff needed to run them, so when times get tough retailers dial down the one thing that actually creates their key point of difference, the front line people who represent their brand.
This difference is not just based on what you sell, what price you sell it at, and where you sell it, but most important its about 'how you sell it to me' and that last bit is the 'how you make me feel' moment, and this is where really great retailers (on/offline) create a huge competitive edge.
Without a doubt eCommerce still has it's own fixed cost base, but the ability to be more agile than traditional retail creates a model that has a more variable cost base ergo, an online retailer could/should be more responsive to the vagaries of a changing market, today an online retailer has greater ability than any time in history to engage with, listen to, and learn from the consumers who favour (or not) the brand and company.
Fashion chains Karen Millen and Coast have recently announced closures. They have more than 200 outlets and concessions between them.
The fast-growing online fashion chain Boohoo snapped up the brands following their collapse. But Boohoo isn't interested in owning and running physical stores (yet), so the number of closures could creep up.
The whole industry is in a sate of flux, it's really struggling to find out how to compete in this agile multi-channel, digitally savvy consumer led world.
Yet, they continue to ignore that there are 3.5 billion people around the world who are active on social media, and when they do they use the medium to 'advertise and promote' themselves - why?
Many of those people on social media are also employed in the retail industry, I have no doubt that the employees of these companies have a bigger social media footprint than the leadership teams of these struggling businesses, and they all have their own area of expertise and stories to tell.
These people without knowing it are 'micro-influencers' in their own right, and with the right training and support can become a huge Superpower for innovative retailers of all kinds, just like the ones who are already posting about their visit to that local food hall, food festival and artisan market mentioned earlier, now that's what I call 'experiential innovation!
Do you have any stories about your local high st and how it's reinvigorating itself?
If you want to know more about up-skilling your employees as part of an 'employee advocacy' strategy please feel free to contact the author of this blog.
In many ways, retail is a pretty simple business. You have to sell things for more than you paid for them, But in the past few years, things have become a lot harder for traditional retailers. Consumers now spend one in every five pounds online - and if businesses are seeing 20% fewer sales on the shop floor as well as their fixed costs rising, then profit margins will be squeezed.