Friday 6 January 2012

Blacks Leisure Go Into Administration - What Can Be Done To Save The High Street?

Given the economy, but more importantly the change in user habits, the High Street has today seen another one of it's major supporters face a financially tough time as Blacks Leisure go in to Administration.

This is the latest in an increasing line of major High Street brands who are trying to deal with an evolving market place rather than riding the wave and going with it.  There's an old phrase; "we're going to hit the high street" and I think that phrase continues to grow in significance as each year passes as I plan my visits to the shops with military precision now - and I literally hit the places I need as quickly as possible and get out equally as fast!  So what could change/evolve to help?  I've got a few ideas...

  • Parking prices - when times are tough, money is naturally on your mind and a car parking meter is like a ticking time bomb in the back of your mind.  I would have less options and look at how to reduce or subsidise the parking costs; 20 minutes, up to 2 hours, up to 4 hours and 4hrs + may have it's own scale.  Instantly you take the pressure off those people who want to go to a couple of shops in an hour as they have 2 hours as standard.  I'd like to see someone adopt this and look at the average stay duration to see if it makes a difference.
  • Rates for premises - one of the biggest appealing factors to retailers about going online is the fixed overheads they can lose as a result.  At the moment it appears more money is being spent online each year which as a result, makes having a real-life shop less appealing.  So as footfall dwindles (certainly throughout the year, regardless of Christmas), what are the councils doing to justify the required investment?  Should rates be regarded as a marketing fee?  If you think about it, you pay extra to be in the popular areas so it should definitely show a return on investment.
  • Virtual Personal Shoppers - I'm not sure this is the right term but what I'd like to see is more people working in the shops, less physical stock and more PCs.  Personally I'd like to walk in to House of Frasier at Christmas and sit with someone who knows their store inside out and can help me find all the gifts I need.  They can show me pictures, videos, reviews etc. there and then and I give them my flexible friend in exchange for them arranging for everything to be delivered to my house/office the next day.  I'm not saying I wouldn't walk round and be inspired by certain things but the personal shopper element has a lot to offer.  I take a punt on products online all the time but I'd be even more likely to commit to purchase if someone human was recommending the product in front of me - especially if I could take it back to a shop to return it rather than queuing at the post office.  It's the same in PC World / Currys - I walk in there as I want expertise and sadly, I very rarely get the same level of information that I could find myself within a minute on YouTube.  
My fear is that shops will only be able to afford to be on the High Street for 2 months of the year so how do the Government help boost footfall and more importantly, what are the retailers doing to really inspire it?  Ten years ago, if there was a requirement for say a Hi-Fi and chocolates for the kids at Christmas, Dixons and Woolworths would have been your bankers.  Today if you wanted a music system and some confectionery you probably don't have to go much further than your local Tesco (possibly for both) and

It's an on-going challenge but it's time for all retailers to look at where they are losing ground, what they can offer instead and how they can add value in different ways.  The stock will be the same so how are companies maximising their personnel?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Chris Lunn, Managing Director
Digity, Marketing Consultancy

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