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Transforming the Retail Experience to Keep the High Street Alive

Transforming the Retail Experience to Keep the High Street Alive


Over the last 12 months there has been a steady stream of blows to the bricks and mortar retail industry. House of Fraser announced that it will close half of its stores in 2019, while Marks and Spencer announced 100 store closures by 2022. We also saw a decline in footfall and sales figures as a result of the Beast from the East, the World Cup and the summer heatwave. This continuing malaise for UK retailers sets a rather gloomy scene for the industry, with many sceptics considering this to be the start of the end of the Great British High Street and the wider physical retail industry as we know it.

Aside from the migration of consumer spending to online outlets, one of the key shifts in behaviour is that of valuing experiences over owning things. Millennials (born in the early 1980s – late 1990s) are increasingly spending their time and money on shared experiences. Additionally, awareness of the provenance of goods has created a generation of conscious shoppers who are buying less, but buying better.

It is against this challenging backdrop that many brands, including our retail clients, find themselves. In order to survive and ultimately thrive, retailers are being forced to re-evaluate and reinvent their offering to provide a more innovative, personalised and exciting experience for consumers. Both individual retailers and shopping centres are embracing this change and leading the way on incorporating more experiential and social aspects to their services.

Indeed, a growing number of consumers visit a shopping centre as a day out. To meet this demand, shopping centres around the country are refurbishing to create more space for affordable dining and leisure activities such as zip lining, virtual reality experiences and crazy golf.

Virgin Holidays recently announced that it will be opening its largest store at Milton Keynes’s centre:mk (one of our shopping centre clients). This comes as River Island is set to upsize its centre:mk store to a 20,000 square foot space, while Primark is also opening one of its biggest stores at the centre next April. This is a great example of how successful brands are expanding to fulfil consumer in-store demand. The Virgin Holidays store will include a virtual reality rollercoaster, a bar serving a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, a children’s play area and a mock aircraft for customers to trial Upper Class and Premium seats. The goal is to design stores that bring the holiday experience to life from the moment you book, bringing a taste of Barbados, Orlando and Dubai to Milton Keynes.

Similarly, this week Debenhams has confirmed that in September it will open its first in-store gym with Sweat! in Sutton, followed by further openings next year in Manchester and Bristol. The ‘social shopping’ strategy will help drive footfall from a predominately 18-33 year old female membership base.

The key is to make traditional needs-based shopping trips interesting, exciting and memorable. The offering needs to be appealing enough to encourage consumers out of their homes, away from their screens, and into store. If bricks and mortar brands don’t adapt to establish themselves as providers of experience and leisure, then we could indeed witness a retail landslide succumbing to a world of digital transactions and click and collect hubs.

Sarah Hodges
Media Account Manager

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