Howard Schultz, executive chairman for Starbucks may have predicted even more than he realised when he said, “You walk into a store, whatever it is, and if there is a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there”.
No truer word and exactly what high street retail needs to take on board if it is going to survive. Actually, let me be more specific – high street retail will survive – in fact it will probably thrive. It will certainly change and there have been and will continue to be casualties, but who will ultimately benefit? The customer of course!
In 2017, 44 medium and large retail companies failed which affected 1,400-odd stores and 12,000 employees. Sounds like a pretty bad figure except it disguises what is really happening.
There is no doubt the high street is in flux. When companies talk about the reasons for failure, they talk about escalating costs, increased competition and the oft-stated “customers are now ordering online – they don’t need the high street anymore”.
Actually wrong. In fact, little more than hyperbole. I am not being unsympathetic to the tough time that companies are facing but I am suggesting that they are looking in the wrong place and arriving at the wrong reasons. Competition, cost pressure, changing customer appetite has always been with us.
Of course, the acceleration of online shopping has meant that customer behaviour patterns have changed. Why go through the hassle of getting into your car, driving somewhere and pushing through crowds to go and buy something you specifically know you want unless you absolutely want to.
And that’s the simple crux of it. As Howard Schultz suggested, you won’t unless you want to. And that is why the future of the high street is so potentially exciting. It’s no longer a shop floor to buy something, it’s a place you go to get an experience. A fantastic experience – that’s why you leave the computer closed and get in your car. The high street offers something your computer never can.
I’m not suggesting that this will be easy, especially as the world of virtual reality in a truly practical sense is getting closer. Whatever shape it takes, there will always the opportunity to create something outside your home that is more compelling than what you can afford to create there.
The future is the experience – there are some exciting high street days ahead.