Camera Chain Jessops was the first high street casualty of 2013, several more have followed in its wake such as HMV and Dreams along with the latest victim, furniture chain Dwell.

Many of us have felt the impact, including myself who after spending months scouring the high street for the ‘perfect sofa’ bought in to Dwell, only for it to fall into administration two weeks later.

The possible longevity of the decline is reported in the recent Retail Futures 2018 report from the Centre of Retail Research, which rather gloomily, predicts that more than 60,000 high street shops could close and 164 retail chains could go into administration.

There’s no doubt that retail is going through a significant period of change. The proliferation of channels and popularity for online shopping has placed some in a crisis situation. But this isn’t the case across the board. Retailers that are embracing the digital world, making strategic moves to ensure a cohesive approach across all channels and giving shoppers the experience and service they desire are blossoming and surviving.

The face of the high street as we once knew it may have gone, but this is exciting news for shoppers and retailers alike.

Here are my tips for getting it right in store….

The ultimate shopping experience…

The US has been leading the way for some time in taking a more experiential and theatrical approach to store formats. One of the more innovative trends is designing outlets to mirror the home environment. Bedrooms, living rooms and dining areas house relevant products, clothes are sparsely hung in wardrobes, shoppers are ‘guests’ and staff are the ‘hosts’. ‘Guests’ are invited to explore or lounge freely while sparkling water and fruit are on offer, all in all making a pretty pleasant shopping experience with all the comforts of home.  This approach isn’t about making a quick purchase. It’s about pleasure, giving customers a reason to hang out with you. It’s above and beyond a typical retail experience and not all about the purchase – people are having fun, it’s enjoyable and a place you want to be whether that’s a gym class in a sports store or a celebrity whisking up a smoothie. It’s all about adding value and giving people a reason to want to put down their laptop and visit the high street.

This leads us to why it’s important to ‘extend the customer journey’

Having a bricks and mortar store isn’t all about getting people to buy inside. It’s about extending a shopper’s journey with you. Retailers who survive the high street will embrace every channel from their website and social media to pop-up shops and showrooms, all of which are just different types of store. Different people doing different things at different times and in different ways will use one or more of these channels, so you need to ensure that you have the full offering available to all customers. Someone may see an offer on social media, try a product in store and then buy online with the same brand – if bricks and mortar played a role in their journey it doesn’t matter where that final purchase took place.

By embracing the digital world you will make the shopping experience more enjoyable and easy for customers. There’s no getting away from the fact that people may want to read reviews or check out offers online while in store so make this possible. Provide a portal to other channels, bridging the real and digital environments. This may be a touch screen for internet browsing, a video screen or QR Code to encourage interaction or ways of accessing social media. Offering free wifi so people can use their smart phones to chat to friends about purchases may make the difference between them buying in store or walking away.

Recruiting, training and motivating staff are crucial to high street survival. Having experts on hand to offer advice and insight about a product and how to use it will help shoppers understand your category, ensuring happy customers who want to shop with you again and again.

Finally, bricks and mortar is important

No matter how immersed in the digital world we become there will always be a need to touch, feel, see, try, smell certain products in a physical environment. This is most prevalent with non-commodity goods, high ticket purchases, items you need to try such as clothes. You have to try it to know whether you really want to hand your money over and that’s the unique power of the high street.

Adam Tregaskis