Is It Just Me? I feel optimistic about the future of our high street

Just in case you missed it, GAP have announced the closure of all UK stores, moving their UK business to digital only. Of course after one of the rockiest periods the high street has ever seen, the loss of shops is hardly a shock but it still sends a shiver down our spines.

The British high street is undoubtedly one of the best in the world and a real institution but with increasing online sales, could Covid have put the final nail in the coffin for those much loved weekend mooches around the shops?

After a year of sitting at home, for many of us in some form of sweat pant, fashion retail certainly slipped to the back of everyone’s mind. For months we literally had no ‘non-essential stores’, and if you tell customers for long enough that something is not essential, after a while they might start to believe it.

Of course most stores are now back up and running but naturally there remains hesitancy amongst shoppers to return to the high street. For some it might simply be part of a continued effort to save cash, while others may still be wary about mixing, and of course there will be those that have discovered the joy of the sofa surf and have no intention of hitting the high street at all in the near future – after all, shopping in joggers with a glass of wine in hand is quite an unparalleled level of joy. But whatever the reasoning, it’s fair to say that the high street is really having a pivotal moment.

Of course we can’t entirely blame Covid for the demise of the high street. The war between bricks and mortar shopping and the digital highway has been ongoing for quite some time. But Covid did show that brands had to adapt to shoppers’ demands or risk becoming obsolete.

But as we begin to reopen both in the UK and across the world, we have to ask, where does that leave us? With huge gaps (pardon the pun) in the high street, with the likes of Topshop, Wallis, Dorothy Perkins and Burton now all online only, can the wonder of the British high street survive a new dawn?

It’s safe to say that the world of shopping will look very different by the end of 2021. Most brands really upped their digital footprint during Covid and worked hard to build their online presence and if they’ve successfully managed to cut overheads, increase sales, or are struggling after a year of stop/start retail, we’re certain that the closure of GAP will not be the last casualty on the high street.

But is there hope?

Most definitely.

However, stores will have to adapt.

We know that while some stores are closing, there are pockets of the high street that are thriving. Although some shoppers are hesitant to pound the pavements, others crave a shopping experience and it’s here that bricks and mortar need to really focus their offering. Shopping needs to become more personal, engaging and feed customers desire for connection, not just the latest trends.

The phrase experiential has been a marketing term bandied about a lot in the last five to ten years but it has never been more relevant for brands than right now. And if a retailer, big or small, wants to keep a strong foothold on the physical high street, they’d do well to really think about what ‘extra’ they offer to shoppers in a store environment.

Physical shopping can no longer just be about that end transaction. Shoppers need more to tempt them back through the doors and it’s up to retailers to hit that sweet spot for customers. We must see this new way of experiential shopping not as a burden but as an opportunity for engagement and creativity. Brands are being presented with the chance to really connect with customers in a way that an email can’t and create an almost community-like feel for shoppers, helping to create a long term and loyal clientele.

Whether it’s alterations, customisation services or more personal experiences such as in-store workouts with major activewear brands, the bricks and mortar space needs to evolve. Stores must become more than the latest spot to pick up a trend and instead on becoming a source of meeting and enjoyment. While the store-based personal shopper remains a key way of a creating connection with shoppers, experiences such as integrated eateries or areas that allow shoppers’ beauty needs to be taken care of are ever-growing in popularity as a way of retailers not only maximising profit per square foot but also a way of bringing shoppers back in on a more regular basis.

It will need some creative thinking, but the future of our high street remains bright.

feature image Fashion Shopping Vectors by Vecteezy