I’m not paying to park! Why the British high street might be struggling… #indieretail

This is a guest blog by Ian Golding – you can find out more about Ian via http://ijgolding.wordpress.com/about/

I woke up this morning to see and hear reports about the continuing demise of the British high street. According to the media, up to 20 high street chain stores are closing on a daily basis. These stores are being replaced by pawnbrokers, bookmakers and charity shops. Here is the data that backs this up… http://retailchampion.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/multiple-retailers-closures-accelerate-to-20-stores-a-day-on-average-across-britains-town-centres/

It is clear that the challenges of the economic climate have had a significant effect on changing the face of the British high street. All organisations, whether they be in retail or not, are having to assess the effectiveness and feasibility of their operations. A cost focus has meant that under-performing parts of organisations have had to be streamlined – for a retailer, regrettably this means that their ‘footprint’ has had to be reduced where possible.

So exactly what are the causes of this – can it all just be blamed on the economy? In my opinion, the causes are as follows:

Spiralling business rates

This is definitely a significant economic factor. I live in Chester in the North West of England. The business rates (so I am led to believe) are exorbitant. For those of you who have been to Chester, it is a historic town with a very historic shopping centre with the world-famous ’rows’ – a two tier high street (see picture below). The ‘rows’ used to be bustling and full of individual specialist retailers. It was wonderful. Today, not only are many of the units empty, those that are occupied are occupied by national chains that can still make the Chester stores work. Why? individual retailers simply cannot afford the rates – big out-of-town supermarkets and a huge outlet village have made the consumer think twice about where to do their shopping. If the town centre offers nothing ‘different’, why bother going……this leads me on to my second point….

Town Centre Car parking

The bane of any shoppers life. Not only is it difficult to find somewhere to park, when you, you are expected to pay through the nose for it. Chester have implemented a ‘free after 3′ parking policy in some car parks. Personally, I will only visit the town centre when I know I can park for nothing. The policy works – but what about the rest of the working day. The consumer now has more choice than ever before. They can visit the big supermarkets or the outlet villages and park for nothing – anytime. They can literally buy anything they want from anywhere in the world from the comfort of their living room. Why would you pay to park in the town centre that offers nothing different? This leads me on to my third point…

Where is the WOW? – What about Customer Experience?

More than ever before, consumers want an experience – a positive, memorable experience in everything they do. Recognising that fact, one needs to question what kind of ‘end to end’ experience do many of our high streets now offer? The experience starts with being able to access the high street (parking, walking, public transport etc..) and ends in much the same way. In the middle are a number of elements that make up the full end to end ‘customer journey’. What kind of journey does your high street offer you? Today it is not great – queues of traffic to get to overpriced car parks. You then walk past empty shops and often dirty streets. You might be able to dine in a fast food restaurant before walking past a gang of youths on street corner to get back to your car before the parking ticket runs out. I am being a bit extreme here, but I am guessing you get the point.

A customer experience specialist in the US, Bruce Temkin, once taught me that there are three elements to any experience:

Why the high street is struggling

When you think about these elements for the high street, it does make it clear why there is a struggle. Is the British high street functional any more? Does it provide the basic things that the consumer wants? Is it accessible? It is certainly not as accessible as other options now available to the consumer. And the third one is the key one – how does shopping in the high street make the consumer feel? What is the emotional connection with the consumer? What is the consumer going to remember about their day out?

I think it is pretty clear-cut why the high street is suffering. The only way to help address the issues is for the key stakeholders to start working together – central and local government; retailers; local people – unless the high street can start to compete from a functional and accessible perspective, the only emotional element of the experience that the consumer will remember is not likely to be positive.

Thanks to Ian for supplying this blog – you follow him on twitter via @IJGolding

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About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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