2018 was clearly a hugely challenging year for the High Street. The latest sales tracker from accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO, indicated that December like-for-like sales dropped 1.9% year-on-year. However, this still marked an improvement on November, when sales dropped 2.9%.
Even more alarmingly perhaps, December 2018 was the eleventh consecutive month of falling sales at bricks-and-mortar stores. 2019 has the potential to be a really bruising year ahead.
The real danger for ‘bricks and mortars’ retailers when they reflect on their December results, however, is that many are focussing almost exclusively on external factors outside their control. There is a tendency to blame the uncertainty caused by Brexit, rising interest rates and the stagnant property market, and to look in the wrong areas (or at least, not the most important ones) for the answers to the problem.
Instead of focusing on driving up footfall, waiting years for park-and-ride options or new shopping complexes to be put in place, or seeking a share of Government handouts, retailers need to recognise that their future fate is to a large extent in their own hands. They can’t go on thinking that doing the same thing will deliver different results. Instead, if they want to change their fortunes and fight back successfully against their online competition, they will need to change their approach.
We have all seen the headlines of course. For almost a decade they have been much the same when it comes to retail. The High Street is declining and it looks as if the fight is all but going to be lost to online. But, there is no reason why this negative forecast should ever come to pass. In fact, the only reason why the High Street has failed to reverse the trend up to now is due to its resting on its laurels and doing nothing more than tinkering around the edges.
Rather than continue to suffer, High Street retailers need to make adjustments. They need to change their approach, otherwise, stores will continue to close. One way in which the High Street can take action to survive and thrive in the future is by forging closer links with the people who are already in its stores.
Today, the biggest opportunity for retailers in this regard comes from the Millenials and in the future, increasingly from Generation Z. Typically, these young people have the most leisure time, tend to spend much of it on the High Street, and are actively looking to use their phones as part of the shopping experience. In short, as a demographic group, they are key to improving the High Street’s fortunes both today and in the future.
There is a huge opportunity for retailers to leave the ‘bigger picture’ issues like Brexit to one side and focus on engaging with young people in store via their mobiles through promotions and offers tailored to their needs. They need to concentrate on delivering product information in the way that millennials expect it to be delivered – on their mobiles, immediately they enter the store and whilst they are engaging with products. And it needs to be information that is informative and shareable. Retailers should use solutions at the best possible price to win the sale or at the very least come as close as possible to the online price: so that the decision to walk away with the goods bought ‘now’ is as compelling as it can be.
Another reason why they need to make convenience to shop in their store one of their primary goals. One way they can do this, which will appeal to Millenials and younger generations is to ‘lose’ the traditional paydesk and move staff onto the shop floor serving customers where their products are located. The results I guarantee will see a rise in UPTs and ATVs.
It is an approach that replicates the benefits of the online mobile world with which most millennials are familiar. With aspects of online shopping incorporated into the proposition customers will enjoy all the convenience, access to a wealth of information, deals and personalised offers and payment options that are quick and easy. Using the customer’s mobile from the start to view products information and buy products on the shop floor is fast and convenient for shoppers and will facilitate an enhanced engagement between customer and store employee.
Greater sales are achieved when people are being assisted – even if a product’s price is higher. Through good service, quite literally helping customers to buy their products, the best stores will see shoppers buying not one product but two, or even three or more. For example, a person comes in to buy a new pair of shoes and leaves with a buffing cloth and wax; another wants a pair of trousers to go with a jacket and is shown a shirt that complements the outfit. In online parlance, it’s called bundling… but in this context, it offers retailers the potential to drive up in-store sales even further.