What needs to change on the high street?

21 Mar 18

The announcement that Claire’s has gone bankrupt is the latest blow in what has been a tough few weeks for the high-street and wider retail industry. Not only is this devastating for the employees, it adds to the concern about the wider industry following the well-documented troubles of Toys-R-Us and Maplin.

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The announcement that Claire’s has gone bankrupt is the latest blow in what has been a tough few weeks for the high-street and wider retail industry. Not only is this devastating for the employees, it adds to the concern about the wider industry following the well-documented troubles of Toys-R-Us and Maplin.

But it is not right to sit and grieve these losses, we need to evaluate and consider what needs to change on the high street.

To look at what needs to change, we need to first focus on the success stories and two recent destination retail success that spring to mind are BOXPARK (Shoreditch and Croydon) and The Artworks (Elephant and Castle). Both follow a similar pattern, they’re made of shipping containers (not essential), have a mix of small and large businesses, and crucially, they put the shopper’s experience first.

The key hurdle in recent years has been attracting people to the high street. It is simply too easy to shop online, and if you would like to go to a physical shop, shopping centres and out-of-town megastores are easily accessible with more variety than their high street companions. This is even more relevant now due to the disclosure that one of Toys-R-Us key challenges was their smaller, town centre stores.

So, what does this have to do with BOXPARK? Well, I’m not suggesting that we need to swap out brick and mortar for shipping containers. But we do need to consider what makes this kind of retail so successful.

In essence, I believe the secret formula is that when you go to BOXPARK or The Artworks you don’t feel like you are going shopping. Yes – people do shop, but they also have a bite to eat, maybe stop for a drink or just enjoy the convivial surroundings. The offer at The Artworks also includes Newington Library – a cultural offer that will always attract foot traffic, from young and old. Ultimately, it is a day out first and a shopping trip second, and the change in mindset from getting people through shop doors to really considering what people want to experience when they shop is the essential first step.

In practical terms this means Business Improvement District’s championing events, celebrations and town centre attractions. It means Council’s stepping up to support their high streets year-round, not just at Christmas (ever been to town just to go to the Christmas Market?). But, it is also means new developments incorporating place-making from the outset – including cultural offers, public squares and family-friendly areas.

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