I recently watched a discussion entitled: “The High Street is Dead, Long Live the High Street”.
The discussion hosted by eBay moderated by the Guardian’s technology editor Jemima Kisshad was made up of influential technology and retail experts including: Bill Grimsey, former chief executive of UK department store Wickes and supermarket Iceland.
Simon Mottram, founder and chief executive of renowned cycling and sportswear brand Rapha, Paul Todd senior vice president of eBay marketplaces for Europe and Ben Hammersley former deputy editor of Wired and technology commentator.
Their discussions were centred on the fate of the UK ‘High Street’ in the wake of changing consumer buying behaviour and technological advancement.
(For the benefit of my international readers, the ‘High Street’ means the city centre).
In the past few years, many UK ‘High Streets’ have become ghost towns as one retailer after the other go bust.
In some areas of the UK, one in three retail shop is boarded up.
At the height of the economy crisis, the UK government was forced into setting up the Mary Portas Commission to investigate the reason behind many retailers going belly up.
Like all government initiatives, after millions of pounds wasted, it came up with some ridiculous and impractical recommendations that was never implemented.
The Mary Portas report was followed by the Grimsey report. Ironically headed by Bill Grimsey one of the panellist at “The High Street is Dead, Long Live the High Street” discussions. His review also failed to address the core bottleneck responsible for the slow death of the UK ‘High Street’.
“The High Street is Dead, Long Live the High Street”
Then came “The High Street is Dead, Long Live the High Street” discussions.
As you will notice from watching the footage above, it was a brilliant discussion with each of the panellist providing the audience food for thought.
Unlike the Mary Portas commission report and the Grimsey review, they managed to identify the core reasons for the death of the ‘High Street’, which is the changing consumer buying behaviour and the advancement of technology.
However, like the Mary Portas report and the Grimsey review, when it came to the solution, they failed to provide the right prescription.
This in my opinion is due to the fact that they failed to identify the root cause of the problem.
Their diagnosis was right.
The cause of the death of the ‘High Street’ is changing consumer buying behaviour and the advancement in retail technology.
The fundamental flaw in their diagnosis was the failure to identify to reason behind the retail industry’s inability to respond to the crisis.
The discussions were centred around the role of the city council, the government and the nostalgia of the older generation.
At no point did any of them mention the failure of the retail industry to respond to the challenge.
As it was repeatedly pointed out during the discussions, the current town centre structure is unfit for the new retail environment.
The town centres were built when retailing meant shopping. When people only reason for going to the town centre was to shop.
In today’s retail environment, the concept of a town centre has evolved.
It is no longer just a place for shopping, it is now a place for entertainment, business, recreation and relaxation.
It is a place people go to get experience.
The shopping as Ben brilliantly put it, is a souvenir of the entertainment and experience acquisition process.
No one goes into a retail store to buy the crappy made in China stuff they could buy online for fraction of the price they are sold for on the ‘High Streets’.
They go to buy the experience of buying the stuff.
The problem with the retail industry, the main reason many retailers are struggling and going bust is they have not caught up to this fact yet.
And the panel failed to outline the role retailers are playing in their own demise therefore missed the opportunity to provide valuable advice to the industry.
And this is the reason the retail industry continues to struggle because trusted retail experts and consultants are failing to accurately diagnose the malady of the industry.
***In part two of this article, I will outline the role retailers are playing in the death of the ‘High Street’ and provide prescription of how to reverse the trend
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