Who else thinks retailers should run our high streets?

The best online and physical shopping environments are provided by retailers. So why not take over the running of our high streets too?

Thinking about what I would write about in this week’s article, I came to one conclusion very quickly…

I am bored of Covid!

And looking at the way the British people are reacting to an initial relaxation of the lockdown rules, I can see that I am not the only one. Although, out and about doing “walkies” with Leo, I do worry that our beautiful stretch of the Dorset coast could be socially abused this weekend.

Hopefully we will not see the irresponsible gatherings that the Police have had to break up in Nottingham this week. Or indeed the unbelievable amount of rubbish left in the beautiful parks. Unfortunately, I think there is every chance that we will. I just hope Leo does not end up the innocent victim of a discarded, broken glass bottles again. Or worse still, a child or parent suffer his previous fate. Decisive, firm and early action is needed to avert disaster. And THAT is what I want to write about this week…

Because I am coming to think that perhaps it is the same decisive action that is now needed in our high streets if they are to have a future.

Last week my article included a reference to the £56M that the Government had set aside to spruce up Britain’s high streets. I pointed out that in the UK, according to ONS figures, we have some 7,000 high streets. The allocated sum equates to an average of around £8,000 per high street. And whilst the money is welcomed, it is obvious to anyone that this amount will make hardly any noticeable difference to the quality of experience any high street has to offer.

Since last week I have been giving the matter further thought. Indeed, I was discussing it with Amberstone’s Chairman, Jason Trigg. What is going to happen to effect the transformation of our high streets? How do we get them to be relevant to the new, improved shopping experience that people will expect if they are to justify venturing out from behind their laptops, tablets and phones and actually visiting a physical store? We rapidly came to a simple conclusion. It is this…

The only way the high streets of this country are going to be properly rejuvenated, so that physical stores can play their full part in an omni-channel retail model, is if private enterprise takes the lead. After all the best online and physical shopping environments are provided by retailers. So why not take over the running of our high streets too?

An evolved high street offers some terrific possibilities…

Online is now embracing bricks and mortar. Amazon notably is opening self-serve stores, but other online retailers are also investing in physical stores. Online has forced high street retailers to up their games online. Now online is making a move into the physical retail space too and taking existing players head on.

We have seen how retailers are buying up brands. Boohoo and ASOS both recently in the news with acquisitions of Debenhams brands and parts of Arcadia’s former empire. Next have acquired a major stake in upscale clothing and accessories fashion brand Reiss, which has around 160 stores. We are seeing retailers taking over brand management of brand names and from there it is a relatively small step to see how they could take over brand management of the high street too. After all, it is all part of their shopping environment – the experiential element of their customers’ journeys.

Look at the possibilities of the high street of the future. The high street will become a sort of department store, with shops clustered around it like departments…

Currently the retailers deal with what goes on in their own stores. But are the BIDs and the BCRPs together with Police, councils, and third party schemes delivering on making the high street a great shopping experience? Think about drunks, drug use and homelessness. Pre-pandemic it was not good and chances are post pandemic we will pick up where we left off.

Online retailers are clearly going to take the same tech driven approach that has brought success online to their physical stores. Whether they are equipped for the changes they are going to face in terms of high street risks, remains to be seen. This we feel is especially true in the areas of attacks on stores and personnel. How will they deal with that? Will unmanned stores have the incongruous presence of permanent security guards. Or will they utilise an LP On Demand model, such as offered by Amberstone, to make sure that they only have LP resources on hand when they need them, correctly trained, equipped and with adequate support both in terms of personnel and technology. Time will tell.

However, their tech driven approach could be hugely supported by behavioural analytics and personal data that allows them to personalise their offerings to individuals in their stores as part of their omni-channel experience. So, the question is why not extend that to the actual high street too, with all retailers sharing in the running of it and the benefits. Such an approach, like that of a smart city, could yield a completely different and personalised shopping experience that would make visiting the high street a much more positive experience. Imagine…

If the geographical area of the high street is a shared retail resource, then the customer experience starts from when you park your car. As you do you pay for your parking with your phone and receive a promotional ticket that says your parking is free if on this visit to the high street on the particular day in question you spend over a certain amount. You receive news of some special offers direct to your phone and money off vouchers based upon what the stores in the high street are promoting at that time.

Using the tech savvy approach of the online specialists we can look at a suite of solutions that will transform the experience.

Face recognition picks up where you are. It sees how you are dressed and concludes that you are not going to the shops but to the gym. The offering changes. Knowing that you are on your way into town perhaps you have already ordered an item online and will be wanting to try it on. You arrive at the store where a changing booth has been reserved for you as you approached the store and the clothing is already inside.

You have already made the purchase and are simply trying the clothing on, before you leave the store. This was the preference you expressed when purchasing online. Not happy with the fit, you return the goods instantly, right there on site. Alternatives may be suggested based upon your feedback (different size perhaps). However, if you decline to take the goods then your card is refunded immediately – no hassle getting the goods back to the store and then waiting for a credit note. Simple stock control for the retailer.

Another item you have to return, but not to a store in that location. So, you go to a returns hub which is used by multiple retailers to collect returns for all brands and then arrange shipping to the seller. You may also have something to pick up such as an Amazon parcel. Knowing you were going to be in town you elected to have it delivered to the hub also, to pick up when you got there. If you want to keep the item, then there is no issue for the retailer around returns fraud. If you do not, then it is returned immediately without hassle as a customer. Again simple stock control for the retailer in question.

From a security perspective not only do systems monitor you being in the high street, but also where you are and where people are that might want to harm you are located. Bringing together the world of retailers, BIDs, BCRPs, Police, etc., we monitor for people whom we want to actively divert from the high street as discussed last week. We also monitor people who are known criminals and deploy tactics to make sure that they are deterred form even entering shops.

Security resources can be deployed to those parts of the high street that need them as and when they are needed. You have resources following the risks and managing them. Rather than each retailer making their own arrangements, with the inevitable built-in cost of obsolescence, retailers only pay for the risk management that they use. So bigger stores or troublesome consumer segments are the fiscal responsibility of that particular retailer.

As the consumers’ high street journeys are tracked and optimised, so the retailers are collecting data. Not just about the offerings consumers respond to, but also how they navigate the high street. What catches their attention? Where are people spending the most time in the high street? And this can be seamlessly joined with data monitoring the transition from high street to individual store and subsequent buyer behaviour. You could actually track the efficacy of marketing at one end of the high street right the way through to your tills!

Armed with such big data you can customise retail offers and create experiences designed to suit individual or family preferences as well as making each experience relevant to what the consumer actually wants to do. It would be a marketer’s dream. And most importantly would transform the shopping experience including the safety and security of shoppers as well as reducing risk for retailers. The shopping experience will then drive prosperity and sales.

I come back to the facts.

The high street desperately needs rejuvenating if physical stores are to play their part in the future of retail. Even the Government recognises it. However, £8K is not going to be sufficient to do the job. And the current application of resources through various stakeholders has got us where we are now.

So, something has to change. And that change could either bring a rejuvenated high street… or bring its end.

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