Can digital save the high street?

Jeremy Corbyn’s business spokesperson Rebecca-Long Bailey has announced Labour’s 5 point plan to save the High Street from ‘a slow and agonising death’.
 
Their rescue plan involves scrapping ATM charges, delivering free WiFi to town centres, introducing a register of empty properties, providing free bus travel for under 25s and overhauling the broken business rates system currently hammering retail.
 
What high streets really need, though, is a new definition. In the words of self-styled Queen of Shops, Mary Portas:
 
 “We need to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, reimagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning.”

While few (if any) stores will have the space or budget of Apple, there’s a lot to be learned from their Today at Apple strategy.

The Apple stores have always been great at running holiday workshops for creative kids, but last year, they rebooted and rebranded them to give their stores ‘greater social relevance’.
 
Workshops and events include photo and sketch walks, basic Swift coding sessions and a kids hour, with some stores offering photo and music labs. The bigger stores hosting perspectives and performances where musicians and artists put on a show or talk about their work.

Apple excel in letting you experience the product – now they’re building in a community feel to celebrate what we can all do with Apple devices.
 
Mary Portas must be delighted - they’ve created a destination for socialising, culture, creativity and learning, all of which is surely good for our health and wellbeing.
 
But back to the reality of the typical UK High Street. Increasingly, the only thing you can be sure of finding is a bookmaker, a payday loan shop, some (often struggling) charity shops, a hairdressers and nail bar.

To quote Mary Portas again, in choosing to shop online, the nation has “sacrificed community for convenience”.

According to the Centre for Retail Research, nearly 13.000 stores have closed in the last decade, as 32 major retailers have gone bust ranging from Blacks and BHS to House of Fraser and Poundworld. 

Richard McCloskey, True’s Client Services Director believes creating a distinctive, talk-worthy in-store experience is essential for survival.
 
“With faster delivery times, no-hassle returns and more convenient pick-up locations, the previous barriers to shopping online are being eradicated. High street retailers cannot compete on price or function, they must compete on something much less tangible – experience!
 
We need to consider the high street as a space for community and leisure, not functional shopping. The marriage of physical locations with smart use of digital is key to the future of the evolving high street.”
 
Step forward the UK’s national Digital Retail Innovation Centre (UK:DRIC).
 
Based in Gloucester, the new national centre for testing and developing disruptive digital innovations will help retail brands explore new models in high street shopping.
 
As an agency working with a range of retail clients including some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres, Team True are hugely excited to have the centre so close to hand.
 
In the next few months, we’ll be exploring how to help retailers get back to a market of one, where the power of personalisation and customisation helps customers feel more valued.
 
Jason Smith, UK:DRIC’s CEO, says:
 
“In many cases, adoption of digital in retail is happening too quickly, without real consideration about what is truly useful and beneficial to customers. We’re looking forward to helping agencies like True ensure their clients have a strong strategy and rationale for the tech they use, by offering a test bed for its effectiveness.”
 
We’ll bring you more insight on the transformation of the high street and on UK:DRIC soon. Watch this (retail) space.
 
In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about how True is helping retail clients and shopping centres across the UK profit from the limitless possibilities of digital, please talk to Bertie.