What do you think needs to be done to save the UK high street?

Following the news that Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster are going into administration, what do you think needs to be done to save the UK high street?

Julie Oxberry

‘High street retail needs to get personal to stay relevant. A braver mix of localised retail and leisure formats would engage and bring a renewed sense of purpose back to the high street. New formats that complement, not oppose, destination shopping malls and inject a more sensory interaction that internet shopping simply cannot replicate, no matter how hard it tries. Physical stores are part of a wider multi-channel customer journey and to stay relevant we need to embrace their enhanced role as centres of inspiration, play and personalised, face-to-face service. Home Depot for example, in the US, has created neighbourhood stores providing top-up DIY products and community classes for learning new skills – DIY projects carried out in local stores are affiliated with nearby schools and community facilities, so everyone benefits. This is just one of many clever socially-oriented retail formats that could bring fresh inspiration and revenue back to the high street.’

Julie Oxberry, managing director and founder, Household

Dave Dunlop

‘The UK high street needs to refocus on creating unique shopping experiences. Retailers must innovate and come up with creative ways to entertain and engage their customers over and above optimising rack space. Hamley’s does this brilliantly by creating a children’s wonderland – unpacking toys and encouraging play; it’s an intrinsic part of their brand. In contrast, Blockbuster didn’t attempt to re-create the magic of film inside their stores – and so it became about convenience and price – where online services won. Retailers need to rediscover the best attributes of their brands and bring them to life through engaging customer experiences.’

Dave Dunlop, creative director of digital, The Team

Chris Moody

‘Rather like the national football squad, we have high hopes for the high street, but feel constantly disillusioned by its performance. We say England should do better, yet we still prefer Sky + to a rainy away game in Belarus and think fancy training academies are a waste of money. Similarly, shoppers bemoan the loss of the high street whilst schlepping out to retail “outlets” and are convinced the local electrical store “sees me coming”. Mary Portas is right, the high street needs more true supporters who turn up on Saturdays, not commentators. It needs grass-root retail education and role models so five year olds want to grow up to be millionaire shopkeepers as well as goalkeepers.’

Chris Moody, creative director, Wolff Olins

Michael Sheridan

‘High Street retailers should not be scared of technology; they should bring it in store. The direction many retailers take with digital is wrong – devices should not be shoe-horned into the shopper’s world. It is the customer experience that has to be at the centre of the proposition, not the technology. Relevant technology best enhances the shopper experience via customer-controlled content and without interfering with their course of trial and purchase. Used effectively technology can help margins, improve training and allow sales representatives to become better brand ambassadors.’

Michael Sheridan, chairman and founder, Sheridan&Co

Callum Lumsden

‘I have great hopes for the independent and start-up entrepreneurial retailers to flourish and bring forward a new wave of shops, which are individual, usually design savvy and cater for the locality they are serving. The “one size fits all” multiples are important in city centres and shopping malls, but the smaller businesses can flourish and bring a breath of fresh air to local high streets because they are small enough to care. Give me Rough Trade East instead of HMV anytime for my vinyl collection.’

Callum Lumsden, creative director at Lumsden Design

Steve James-Royle

‘Instead of harking back to days gone by, like several recent incentives, look forward instead. We’re the mall-generation. We like the comfort, the ease, the attraction of a mall. How is a mall different from the high street? It has a roof and plenty of parking. Easy then, put a roof over it and put parking underneath it and the high street becomes the same attraction. Job done?’

Steve James-Royle, founder and creative director, The Yard Creative

Callum Lumsden

‘I wrote a piece for the Guardian on this very subject. I would add though that we are hardly going to miss Blockbuster or Jessops are we? Blockbuster is described as a video and DVD retailer. Now I have a great collection of ’70s and ’80s videos… but I look at the covers and then watch the films online or on DVD. The excitement is in the watching of the film, not the browsing through an ill-conceived yellow and blue shed.’

Wayne Hemingway, co-founder, Hemingway Design

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  • Nick Couch November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Such a great topic.

    I agree with all above.

    We’ve got to change business rates to make it more affordable. It’s short term greed that’s killing the high street – the high cost of retail leases, one-size-fits-all rates, long lease durations.

    Walk around many of our great European cities and you wonder why we can’t have more independent retailers alongside the global ones. Who’d have thought, they have variable rates and terms for independents. The author Jeanette Winterson talks brilliantly about this from experience running a shop in Spitalfields.

    We’ve got to make it easier for small businesses to take on retail and office space.

    Saving the high street is different to saving HMV, Blockbusters, Jessops and the predicted 100 on the brink. These businesses failed to innovate in our rapidly changing economy. I predict iTunes will also go down as people increasingly listen to music for free, streamed live. The notion of us all owning media content might be over. Are shelves a thing of the past? Blimey, Mr Vitsoe, what a thought!

    Nick Couch

  • Steve Roberts November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    An interesting debate. Here is my take on it.

    Historically the high street has been both the browsing and buying destination. Brands relied on the ‘sum of the parts’ argument i.e., they could not afford to develop their own chain of outlets so relied on the pooling of high street retail space, sharing the cost with their competitors.

    With the advent of the Internet, this relationship has been fundamentally changed. For a short period the brands thought they had utopia…retailers bearing the cost of displaying their goods with the brands making greater profits by selling on line.

    Clearly this business model was destined to fail and, with no surprise, the high street retailers are falling like dominoes.

    So to the future. I think you will see more brands setting up their own stores (like Apple and Sony) as this will be the only way for consumers to interact with their products. So those excess profits that the brands have gained, short term, will be swallowed up by the increased costs of having retail space on the high street.

    Don’t you just love the way free markets work 🙂

    Clearly for new brands, the lack of retail chains to display their goods will be a problem for them; so I can see a generation of boutique type retail chains opening giving these smaller brands the opportunity to share costs with their competitors to get their products displayed and sold, they will then start selling on line and we go round the loop again.

  • Lisa Jelley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I also agree with the above, though I also want to cite the fact that you don’t see this problem as much in places like France (Virgin Megastore excepted), Holland and Germany.

    Is it because the rent and rates for shops are kept realistic, so that small entrepreneurial outfits can test the water, survive and then expand, and still be able to afford to keep going when times are hard and the weather’s bad?

    Amsterdam, Haarlem, Hamburg, Bremen, towns and cities across France all boast individual boutiques and specialist shops that can offer something different, and year on year they are still there.

    I can only put it down to the cost of renting a shop in this country, versus across the rest of Europe that is helping to kill the high street, and which has meant the slow but sure change from specialist shops unique to a single town, to a high street of the same shops from Inverness to Plymouth and everywhere in between.

    What has become of our “country of shop keepers”? Is Philip Green the only one left?

  • Gareth Jenkins November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great piece. We’ve been talking to a couple of the economics professors at work for an academic perspective on the issue. It’s nice to read that some of your commentators are as cautiously optimistic as they are.

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