A Retail Assemble – Is It Too Late To Save The High Street?


News this morning that the Government are assembling a crack team of ‘retail and property leaders’ headed by Local Growth Minister, Mark Prisk, Boots health and beauty division chief executive, Alex Gourlay, and retail guru, Mary Portas, comes as no surprise to us at HP; but this should’ve happened years ago! What can the Future High Streets Forum (Or “Portas’ Pilots” as they have been dubbed) bring to the aging bricks and mortar retail model when the writing has been on the wall for years now?

We’ve seen the demise of Woolworths, Blacks, JJB, and Comet, not to mention the latest from Deloitte confirming 66 HMV stores, employing 930 people are to close! So a significant number of high street brands have been bought by receivers or  disappeared completely in recent years, costing thousands of jobs and pushing even the mildly techno-phobic shopper to head for the web (or most common, Google) instead of their shopping arcade.

This is not a new issue, but many high street brands have continued to survive (and some to thrive) during this almost triple dip recession. River Island and John Lewis are good examples of companies that have adapted with the times and have invested in online, creating user-friendly online shopping experiences that enhance the brand and contributes to continued business in their high street stores. Clear visibility in search engines, competent and innovative social media presence and a user-friendly website (that is tested via CRO) is vital in achieving online success and these two British retail institutions have evolved where plenty of others haven’t.

The continuing prominence of online Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as other creative online marketing ‘offers’ and ‘specials’ advertised via display ads, YouTube advertising and Remarketing now work as powerfully and more cost effectively than traditional TV and Press advertising. This begs the question why so many of the retail chains have not been doing more to bridge the gap between the high street and online?

Many will point to the powerhouse of Amazon pricing high street retailers out of business, but the Amazon phenomenon is old news; they have been in the game for almost 20 years now! Perhaps instead fingers should be pointed in the direction of the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO), which will have almost certainly accounted for the demise of retailers. And it’s still happening; you only need to look at the recent Twitter faux pas at HMV, whereby an employee live tweeted about being fired from the company’s official account. #hmvXFactorFiring was trending worldwide – the kind of publicity money can’t buy but lack of foresight can!

Yet there are successful online brands that are now heading to a High Street near you, showing that it can be done. N Brown’s impressive port folio of e-commerce brands such as Simply Be, Fig Leaves and Jacamo are doing just that!

By not embracing online commerce, dinosaurs have become extinct and whilst I’m all for A Retail Assemble coming to the rescue - and at UK tax payers’ expense too - those retailers that realised the importance of online will be smiling. Wryly.


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