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The Changing High Street Scene

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The change of the high street is a hot topic! It has been for many years and will continue to be, as consumer habits constantly change as well as the way in which they interact with brands.

It’s a subject that has a huge amount of opinion across all levels of the spectrum as to the reasons why it’s changing as well as in relation to what the future holds for the high street. We all know the phrase ‘the death of the high street’, but is it really dying? Or is it in the middle of transforming itself and carving out a new purpose and identity?

As this is such a large discussion point, I plan to revisit this subject as its journey progresses in order explore the varying perspectives.

One of the main causes for the change of purpose of the high street, as we are all aware, is the use of technology and the constant rapid growth of online shopping. I’m not going to discuss in detail the growth and effect of the online world (as that is another huge subject in it’s own right, and one that has been told many times), but how has the high street reacted?

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In addition to this, another obvious impact on the high street and businesses as a whole, is the squeeze on consumer spending. For some retailers in combination with the effect of the online world this has been too much to bear, but will this be the fate for more and more brands? Yes, for the brands and businesses who can’t adapt, but no, for the ones who can see the new opportunities.

Brent Hoberman, Co-Founder of Made.com, was quoted in the Future Laboratory Retail Futures (2013) Report, stating, “The high street has to change a lot. It should not be as focused on retail as it is now. It should be focused on community, leisure, entertainment and education.”

I have to agree. The high street has to be more of a social experience rather than a transactional one. Customers demand so much more and want everything now and to be honest they have every right to. Therefore, the purpose of the bricks and mortar, especially for the big brands has to be focused on connecting with their customer on a one to one level, creating a sense of personalisation, tailoring their offer to their customers needs instead of an ‘all things to all men’ approach. It just won’t cut it anymore.

Maybe the big brands should take a look across the street at the local independents, especially within the food scene, where the customer can really get to know the people behind the business and learn about the product. From cafes and street food traders through to markets and independent convenience stores, honesty and provenance is key to the success of this industry, which enables the customer to really believe and buy in to the business and actually feel a part of it, almost becoming brand ambassadors themselves.

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Well, some of the big brands are having to take a peek through the window at their independent competitors and local markets now, they can no longer ignore them. An article in the Guardian by Joanna Blythman, entitled ‘No wonder superstores are dying – we’re sick and tired of their culture’, discusses how the big supermarkets, who were and still are to an extent, killing off the local independents with their ‘big box’ superstores, but are now having to quickly retreat, change their strategy and move to a more local, smaller footprints and at the same time battle against the discount stores.

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This is due to a dramatic change in consumer habits, where they are sick and tired of following the line. Buying the same, hugely inflated products, in the same place, at a regular interval of once a week. Our lives have changed and, almost going back in time, we shop more regularly for food, meaning that the most convenient place to shop is at our local independent stores, just round the corner. Our focus is on quality as well as practicality, and the local businesses in our neighbourhood provides this better than the big box supermarket. We are also more conscious than ever where the product we are buying comes from.

Don’t get me wrong the ‘Big Four’ will never go away, they will just need to change to fit in with our requirements. But this shift in attitude is great news with regards to what the identity of our high street may become.

However, when it comes to fashion, beauty and accessories, it’s a bit different. This sector, I feel, is a much harder nut to crack for the independents to really thrive across the board. But there are communities out which are doing just as well as the indie food scene, let’s hope that this continues to grow.

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As mentioned earlier, I plan to revisit this subject to explore the different perspectives and opinions in detail. Looking at big brands and major retail destinations, through to independents, exploring my local neighbourhood and finding out about the local initiatives that are going on to help create a real BOOM in Indie Retailing, as well as the constantly changing consumer habits and trends.

So, stay tuned for more!

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