There isn’t a day that goes by without hearing about businesses revising their retail strategies and making difficult decisions relating to their business models. Although difficult for those employees affected these businesses are simply adjusting to the changing face of the traditional high street and reinventing their brands to keep up with consumer behaviour. This is nothing new and has always been the case, but what is different now is that the rise of digital happened faster than our towns and cities could ever have imagined. I applaud these businesses as they are changing and growing, listening to their customers and behaviour before it is too late for them. High streets remaining relevant is something we hear a lot of these days, but how are businesses meant to achieve this? This is what we’re seeing evolve through the rise of food and beverage and the decline of others, however it is how a town and its community embrace and support these changes that really matters.
In the age of digital, consumers have never had it so good in terms of choice, and they need to feel connected to their local community and have a reason to visit and support their town centres. They still need shops right? yes they do, but not in the traditional sense. Customers are seeking an experience and connection with their area, they want a unique visit where they can connect with the history, shops and businesses and know that their town is relevant to them. What does a good high street look like? A thriving high street will have an identity in terms of how they serve their public, multiple well known high street brands alongside independent businesses, a diverse mix of eateries all supporting destination venues, but as we know this is not the case in every town up and down the country and is easier said than done.
Where we see towns embracing digital there is a connection between the business and the end user. The challenge for town centres is the digital skills gap, with many independent businesses unable to keep up with the ever changing landscape and although most people you speak to want to shop small and shop local this can be a challenge when these businesses do not have an online presence and therefore become invisible to potential customers.
Forward thinking local authorities know that they have a part to play in bridging this gap by working with stakeholders are redefining the customer experience for visitors and ensuring that they too are reinventing their town centres to continue to evolve, thrive and stay relevant. There will be winners and losers as always but it is how towns embrace the changes that will set them apart and remain relevant. What do you think about the future of our town centres?