Our high street deserves better (16/07/14)

Our high street deserves better

OUR HIGH STREET DESERVES BETTER

As the way in which we shop evolves and consumer expectations change, Lee Anderson, Head of Marketing at Primesight, discusses how Britain's ailing high streets could be re-invigorated.

'Britain deserves better than this' is a line that I've been hearing recently - and with pride I shrug it off and defend our national football team (oops!), our hospitals, education system, economy and all the other institutions that make up that occasional and somewhat awkward pub chat with friends on a Thursday evening.

But wait...what about communities and UK towns? I freeze when this one comes up. Why? Because they are a fundamental part of our society, what makes the country move clockwise: the people, the togetherness, the locality, the hustle and bustle of buying and selling on the high street, the negotiating, the trade, the communication, the opportunities. What happened to our beautiful high streets?

London, by right, is a rich superpower full of urban landscapes, each with its own identifiable character. The vibrant high streets are most definitely its lifeblood, where people come to shop, seek some entertainment and are actively social.

But let's be clear, when you look at the bigger picture and the whole of the UK it's not all sunny on the high street. Online shopping, technology, increasing rents and competition from retail parks are all putting a squeeze on essential local centres.

I refer to an article written back in 2012 reporting that La Senza and Peacocks had just fallen into administration and as I'm writing this today, two years on, the BBC has just reported that it's happened to La Senza again! Our high street has changed beyond recognition; many big household brands have been part of the disappointing trend that Woolworths set some years ago of falling into a flurry of administration.

Surely our high street deserves better?

There are many reasons to remain optimistic - 20% of the UK GDP is contributed by retail sales, 3 million people are employed on the UK high street, 100 Regent Street stores are now fitted with iBeacons, and by 2016 connected retail will influence 44% of all retail sales, so opportunity still knocks if we recognise the importance that our thriving high streets provide to the country.

Media has a really significant role to play in ensuring people keep visiting and spending in and around the high street. Take a look at the drinks maker Pernod Ricard who are working with mobile engagement and payment technology firm Zappit to pinpoint opportunities to push brands such as Absolut and Camp Viejo to people's smartphones. Or indeed the Cadbury owner Mondelez who is looking at how it can use iBeacons to boost impulse sales as part of a wider marketing shift to cheaper digital channels.

Then, of course, we have the in-store experiences with brands like Apple and Burberry leading the way.

Although media can help, it is customers that will ultimately re-invigorate our high streets and the future of retail simply has to be built around having an unprecedented customer experience.

Mobile, wireless, showrooming, iBeacons and all in-store technologies are important; this rings true with the recent quote from Bill Grimsey at the MediaTel breakfast seminar held with Primesight, when he said: "Customer service is not important. Forget it as a term; it's old hat, it doesn't work. Replace it with customer experience."

Apple designed a store that is an experience - it doesn't even have checkouts. Recently, the new kid on the block for enhanced customer experience is from Amazon Fire and some claim this product will change the way consumers operate on the high street but I have a feeling that they're going to have a tough time up against the entrenched competitors like Apple and Samsung who are sure to respond with menace.

The consumer journey isn't one that starts when you enter a store; it begins when you leave your front door. The Outdoor medium is one which can add significant value to perfecting the customer experience on our high streets. How?

By rebuilding brand awareness, delivering contextual messages, driving people into stores, signposting what's available, linking to mobile search and being the one outstanding communication platform when people are actually out and about, in and around our UK high streets.

McKinsey's path to purchase theory is a great representation of this; OOH generates fame to get on the consideration list, it drives search and it also provides the right time, location and mindset communication. It's also an ambassador for providing content and sharing accessibility by facilitating the trigger of conversation. Exactly what we need to kick-start and reinvigorate a community.

From a retailer standpoint, those who emerge out of the changing landscape will do so through using a mix of the online and offline experiences - making shopping more convenient and easier, whether online, in-store or through mobile applications. They will also increase their communication tactics to educate on the new processes, technology and experiences that are occurring for consumers.

Although the high street will continue to change, we have a responsibility in media to assist in revitalising it - common sense and passion to put the UK back on top is what is required and perhaps then the 'Britain that deserves better than this' will be one step closer to where it needs to be.

The article appeared first here: MediaTel