We’ve all seen the headlines proclaiming the ‘slow death of the high street’. With more of us shifting to the web for our shopping needs, businesses would be forgiven for thinking town centres are rapidly becoming dead zones from a marketing perspective. After all, why focus any meaningful part of our marketing budgets on physical shops and street-based promotions if those streets are becoming deserted?
The reality is more complicated. Look beyond the gloomier headlines and a subtly different picture emerges: consumers are still using the high street – but in a new way. People are still out there and are keen to experience brands in the flesh. They’re looking for experiences rather than sales pitches – which is why an increasing number of businesses are looking for new ways for promotional staff to engage with customers on a live face-to-face level. Experiential marketing is all about boosting brand image. As the high street becomes focused more on entertainment and less on handing over cash there and then, it’s the ideal arena for engagement.
What do recent figures tell us?
As the recession took its toll, the UK saw the disappearance of a string of high street stalwarts such as HMV, Comet and Jessops. At the same time, the country was embracing internet shopping in a big way; Ofcom data published last year showed Britain was spending more online per head than any other nation (£1,175 per person, per year). The challenge for any marketer looking at the high street is in trying to separate the effects of the economic downturn from the implications of long-term shifts in shopping habits. Shop vacancy rates are starting to go down as the economy picks up, but what’s the picture for the future?
Shops are still vital – but they need to change
Recent analysis shows that the high street still has an important role to play.
Click and collect looks set to be a part of this. With the Government keen to reduce red tape to enable shops to build click and collect lockers, the hope is that as click and collect uptake increases, customers will pick up their goods, have a coffee and browse independent shops on the high street. It’s a big assumption – and fortunately, it’s only part of the story.
The O2 Future of Retail report looks at how shopping is likely to evolve and makes encouraging reading for any high street retailer. For instance, by 2020, it is estimated that three quarters of shoppers will use the high street as a way of getting inspiration for future purchases – thereby influencing 89% of retail sales. For online retailers to succeed, a high street presence is going to be a vital tool in driving online and offline sales.
The O2 report also demonstrates high street shopping will be seen increasingly as a form of entertainment rather than a necessity or a chore to be endured. The stores themselves need to be reshaped to take this into account. A social space; an arena to try out the product and get to know the brand and a seamless online-offline experience: these are what consumers will expect from the high street in the future.
The high street: the natural home of experiential marketing
Smart marketers are already tuned in to the benefits of putting out messages consumers can touch, view or feel in a physical space – and the figures suggest this trend is on the up. Event Marketing Institute research points to a steady increase in brand budgets for branded events and experiential marketing from 3.6% growth in 2011 to nearly 8% in 2013.
The end objective isn’t necessarily to secure a sale right at that moment; it’s for the consumer to come away having had an experience that results in an enhanced opinion of the brand. The high street is increasingly becoming a space for entertainment; for experiences that can’t be replicated on a laptop or a smartphone but which are ripe for sharing and talking about online. High street retailers are realising this and so too are marketers looking for effective ways to engage with customers.
LOLA Events is a UK wide promotional and event staffing agency providing fantastic promotional staff, event staff, hostesses and catering staff for unique parties, product launches, conferences and events.