According to news this week, the high street experienced more than triple the net shop closures in 2014 than in 2013.  But our changing high street is just that; far from dead, and in many locations as busy as ever.

Traditional retailers may be struggling to compete with the ever-expanding world of omni-channel retailing, but there are fundamentals at work here.  Nobody can buy just a simple cup of coffee online – not yet anyway. Cafes and coffee shops are going strong, and the high street is likely to see increased demand for food and drink products as part of a more leisure based community feel to our high streets. The high street is quite clearly becoming much more of a hub for window-shopping, product experience and entertainment, and retailers are adapting to meet this new role.

Retail is in many ways going from strength to strength, but its nature shifting, and it’s the responsibility of the retailers to recognise exactly why this is, if they want to survive.  Is it simply down to the rise of technology and our ultra-connected society that is effecting this shift-change?  Or is the changing high street increasingly subject to other, more fundamentally human, influences?

Understanding this is important because it’s currently forecast that over the next ten years, two-thirds of all retail spending growth will come from those aged 55 and over.  An ageing population profile, helped by lower birth rates, longer life expectancy and the sheer size of the baby-boomer generation – many of whom are now retiring – are just three factors underpinning this trend.

The ageing demographic profile of the UK population is a major influence on consumer purchasing power, shopper journey and shopping preferences.  The main challenge facing retailers will be to adapt to the needs of this ever-growing demographic and get to grips with their potential to reshape the UK’s high street, where retail services and good old-fashioned customer service become more of a focus.

What does this mean to retailers in general?  It’s vital that they reconsider store design and shopper services, as well as specific marketing campaigns and offers to attract the older shopper demographic.  Above all, it’s crucial that we understand these are older consumers who still think of themselves as young consumers.  The current ‘older’ generation of shoppers, the baby-boomers, has no intention of retiring quietly to a life of dominoes and gentle gardening. They are down-ageing: acting younger, both physically and mentally.

The importance of the social aspect of shopping to this age group should also not be underestimated.  If you’ve ever wondered why retired people go shopping on Saturday, the busiest day of the week, when they could easily go on a weekday morning with fewer people about, then the answer provides us with a great insight that retailers could and should be mindful of. They do it because that’s exactly when most other people go shopping, and the buzz of the high street becomes an opportunity to interact and exchange with others.  The older a generation gets, the more it potentially needs others.  What age change is doing however is strengthening demand for both improved shopping environments and better service/accessibility.  The changing high street must embrace this; older shoppers are far more demanding than the young.

This all points to a continuing need for retailers to work much harder to understand shoppers and the shopper journey much more sensitively. That means greater segmentation, much better use of tools like sub-branding and store navigation (on and offline), and much more clarity in offers and promotions.

We can help you better understand and communicate with your customer; get in touch with us today.

Caroline Finch-Denham

Account Director