This week I attended one of Real Estate Live’s webinars on the Future of the High Street as we head out of lockdown. Its panel of experts was led by Jackie Mulligan, founder of ShopAppy, retail journalist Mark Faithfull of Property Analyst and other retail, place and consumer specialists.
Here’s what got me thinking:
Don’t be down on High Streets
The session kicked off with Mark stating that High Streets are an emotive topic for many people, with plenty of preconceptions about what a High Street should be – your butcher, baker and candlestick maker etc! But consumer needs and habits have changed and in reality it hasn’t been like that for a while.
High Streets are often criticised for being full of barbers, nail bars and pound shops – but one view shared was that they wouldn’t be there if people didn’t use them. So let’s not idealise the past, but reimagine the future.
Covid-19 has changed things up
This won’t be news to anyone, but much has changed in just three months. The local corner shop has become a lifeline. Purchases are based how easily we can get the products we want rather than the product itself – compromises are made. The weekly shop is back and, whether you choose to stockpile, or go without until your next shop, it’s clear our shopping habits have changed.
“Retailers need to think about their virtual presence, in-house experience and the relationship between them.”
Sherry Dobbin | FutureCity
High Streets will adapt
Jackie commented, “Shaping an alternative future is exactly what we should be doing right now. We should ban the term future proofing as [coronavirus has] proved we can’t do that!”
With businesses currently operating from the front of their stores and concerns for spikes and future lockdowns, retail may look different moving forward.
Sherry Dobbin from global placemaking agency FutureCity expanded on this, “With social distancing adaptations, how do you think about the design of the shop to still make it look full and a pleasurable experience? Lots of shops have been able to serve out of the front and do more of a kiosk transaction. Many retailers will be thinking about flexibility of their stores and their layouts, now just for now but in the years to come.
“This has to be balanced with offering something you go to so that you like the experience rather than out of need. Retailers need to think about their virtual presence, in-house experience and the relationship between them.”
One panellist referred to British villages and how their traditional model is very sustainable and appropriate right now – local items made and sold there to local people. There are beautiful rich elements to village life, their communities, architecture, culture of community events. Will this rekindled love for the local High Street and purchasing directly with independent producers whether physically or online continue once lockdown has lifted?
We can have it all
It shouldn’t be a case of High Street presence versus online, the two can coexist. Resilient retailers are seeing the opportunity to add to their digital presence, with the lockdown being the reason for businesses to finally get online.
Fay Cannings, founder of Seekd, a ethical jewellery marketplace, said, “Businesses that aren’t trading physically are being innovative reaching customers online. Taking the online world to the physical going forward – we have been creating pop up shops and seeing these are working well. Multi-brand experiences enable businesses to access opportunities they couldn’t do independently.”
Jackie explained how her company existed to make it easier for people to support local, before anyone had heard of coronavirus. During lockdown they have offered free memberships and free local delivery. The company has seen tens of thousands of pounds going to local businesses, enabling them to trade safely.
“It has been encouraging to see how businesses have kept each other buoyant during this time. We should embrace collaboration between small businesses and how they can share the cost of websites, marketing etc. Websites like Just Eat bring it all together and make it easier for customers to choose locally.”
Don’t talk about the new normal, do start talking about doing things differently, better and together, was the message.
“We should embrace collaboration between small businesses and how they can share the cost of websites and marketing.”
Jackie Mulligan | Founder, ShopAppy
Communicating through a crisis can be challenging, but there is great value in telling your story.
Fay talked about how the designer–makers she works with have been getting their stories out there – stories about what makes them unique, how and where their products are made. There is more interest in smaller brands and that presents an opportunity.
Edward Cooke from Toolbox Group added that marketing will ensure your brand is top of mind – content from stores that are trading and getting ready to trade, what social distancing is in place, plus light hearted messages of acts of kindness, bravery. These all encourage people to remember retail will open soon and ready them to get back out shopping.
Jackie’s final call to action was for businesses to “Act. Adapt. Collaborate”.
That’s something all of us can support, as professionals but also in our own personal shopping habits, as we adjust to the challenges and opportunities that 2020 has brought.