The demise of our high streets is very current right now. I’ve read this week of a near apocalyptic scenario whereby it’s predicted that up to 20% of UK high street stores will close by 2018. That figure could rise it seems to 30% for Wales and the North West of the UK, according to the Mail at any rate. This is now being reported as fact and is in danger as being consumed as such. Is there any other industry where this would happen? I think not. Independent retail is diverse and as such can sometimes struggle to speak with one voice. For example how would the drinks industry, pharmaceutical industry, road haulage industry and perhaps farmers react to such headlines? Loudly no doubt.
We need to get away from the fait accompli approach to the high street. This is not a fact and is not guaranteed to happen if the high street and independent retailers react. Retail is and always has been about change. Seasonality, product and range, merchandising and reacting to the challenges presented over the last 100 years. Wanamaker’s Grand Emporium Philadelphia saw the arrival of the merchandiser, retailers began to welcome customers to their stores. This was more than just a catchphrase as retailers dismantled steps and any other hindrance a customer might encounter prior to entry. Next on the agenda was large windows, dressed with mannequins. Ground breaking indeed. The death of the small retailer was imminent it seemed. Guess what they adapted.
Stores such as Selfridges of London, Marshall Fields of Chicago and Bon Marche of Paris were swiftly followed Frank Woolworth and the first chain store in the early 20th Century. Independent retail was on the ropes. However the next retail revolution was not another large format but was the arrival of the boutique. The fact is when you chart the development of retail you see a constant pattern of change. Decline and renaissance as portrayed in the book “The Business of Britain in the 20th Century”.
The fact that retail is all about change should allow us to grab the new environment of eCommerce and mold it to suit our needs as retailers. Technology is changing the world at ever increasing speeds. The way we bank, the way we communicate and yes the way we shop. But behind all the technology there’s always people. We as retailers have communicated with our customers face to face, on our shop floors. We can still communicate but our shop floor is now in more than one place. If anything it’s now even easier to meet our customers, easier to have a conversation, a real two way conversation. But in order to do this we must be in the right state of mind and in the right places. Our high street location is now only one such place. Others include twitter, facebook, pinterest and hopefully on our eCommerce enabled web site. Change brings with it great challenges but it also brings great opportunities. Embrace the opportunities to mitigate the challenges.
As independent retailers we need to be more confident. Independent retail offers individuality, service, diversity and more often than not quality. Quality of service and product. Getting drawn into a price war with online retailers is a zero sum game. Independent retail brings much more to the party than price. Get online, develop an eCommerce site. Do this not just to sell but to shout. Shout about what you’re good at, your advantages, your personality. Be brave and embrace the change, after all where would retail be without change?