The future of the High Street doesn't have to be sombre.
The Blogfather has a right proper mulling session on how we can reinvigorate the High Street with some simple, creative thinking.
It all paints a bleak picture. But we don't do bleak at Gasp. If you want bleak, go and read...Bleak House.
One image that stood out from last month's parliamentary enquiry into the demise of BHS was Dominic Chappell's account of how the employees came into stores on the weekend to change light bulbs and do the painting. A casual look out the window here at Gasp reveals three recently closed retail units in the prime location of Wokingham's central marketplace. A few years ago Tesco was portrayed as the scourge of the High Street, but now it's very much Amazon; the one-stop-shop global phenomenon that allows independent manufacturers to sell and deliver directly to the consumer, cutting out and under-cutting the High Street in the process.
It all paints a bleak picture. But we don't do bleak at Gasp. If you want bleak, go and read...Bleak House. If you want respite from our pseudo democracy that has carried out a kind of inverted bait and switch using a blonde buffoon to give us an unelected Prime Minister, then you are in the right place.
There are positive signs out there, for example, Jessops. They were brought back from the brink by Dragon's Den star Peter Jones, and are now opening 6 new high street shops per year, and project to continue to do so for years to come. They actually have an interesting 'click-and-collect' service that is doing its bit to check the steady footfall decline on high streets. You simply reserve a camera online, no obligation to buy, and the peeps in the shop have it all ready for you to play with when you come in. They'll answer all your questions, and if you are happy, you buy.
The hugely successful online retailer Notonthehighstreet.com (possibly for self-reflective reasons of guilt) are now somewhat ironically doing their bit to encourage trade on the high streets. They recently opened a pop-up shop in London's Spitalfields market called 'Open Door', an interactive shopping experience that looks to be the advent for a larger bricks-and-mortar presence.
“We thought we would go back to the traditional high street and have a more physical retail experience. Open Door is combination of demonstrations and workshops, with partners making products on site,” explains Simon Belsham, Chief Executive.
Using the retail outlet as an area to showcase products is likely to be an important part of any successful future for the High Street. But what else can we do? The crux is tackling how online retail is often cheaper and can deliver straight to your door. Why would you want to trek up the hill and pay more? There's no doubt that, as a society, we are getting lazier. When the delivering of a hand-picked assortment of nuts to your work place (graze.com) becomes a profitable business model, you know sedentary existences are on the rise. The human race really has come full circle from our time as foragers.
We need some creative thinking. Here's some. We need to incentivise people to increase the footfall to high streets. So how about utilising one of the many apps for measuring how far you walk/how many calories you burn off. Sports retailers could advertise to drive peeps to download the free app to earn discounts. The further you have to walk to get to the store, the larger the discount (10% off per KM, say). You may even get kids asking their parents to on purposely drop them further from town as they want to get an extra 20% off the new Spurs shirt, or similar. Assuming they don't get waylaid and killed playing Pokemon Go on the way in, it should be great. Someone like Sport England may get involved. And from here, you can engage with the customer, nail the personal service that no AI chat bot can yet rival, get them hooked, and drive loyalty. Their next purchase may be online, but that's OK. In fact, the seamless journey between offline and online is vital. There's no real reason only sport retailers could use it. If it is encouraging a healthier society, then lots of companies will want to be in on that. Just an idea.
Yet what about smaller start-ups, who cannot afford an app and an experiential campaign? Well, as ever, social is vital. It's possible to achieve a lot, with a little budget. A few years back we helped a great start up that sells greetings cards to launch, called Creased Cards. They are now settled, established and thriving in The Lanes of Brighton. We’ve trialled a SnapChat geo filter recently for a client, which is a filter only available to use when you’re physically in the client's location. This could be a good way to get customers into stores. It could in fact be a good fit for someone like Jessops, who want to “sell photography”, not merely cameras. Using the filter could unlock an in-store only discount. One of Jessops biggest obstacles to growth is its perception as being too expensive, especially compared to online. Photography actually lends itself well to having a channel on SnapChat's Discover.
We’ve trialled a SnapChat geo filter recently for a client, which is a filter only available to use when you’re physically in the client's location.
One of the reasons Notonthehighstreet came into existence, presumably, is because a large portion of the small businesses under its umbrella did not have a chance of affording units in prime High Street locations. There are units in most high streets just sitting there empty. This is arguably beyond the realms of marketing as such (although it would be good PR for local authorities), but surely there is little for local councils/property owners to lose in letting these out for low rental rates to start ups. Maybe forsake rent entirely, and agree a percentage take of profits. No one is hit with debts, and the more successful it is, the better everyone does. If it doesn't work, it just goes back to being empty.
There are reasons to be positive about the High Street, yet plenty more we could be doing creatively. Let's get it done, and don't watch the news! It'll only get you down. Boris as Foreign Secretary...It's like having Inspector Clouseau in charge of MI6.