Our partners at Save The High Street have been working hard to find solutions to the UK’s high street crisis.
Accepting the nuanced nature of the problems UK retail is facing, it’s made the important step of looking at digital as a solution, rather than a cause, of the epidemic.
And last week, the first signs of progress appeared – and national media took notice.
Innovation at the independents
The revival is happening in Barnes, South West London – where 90% of the shops are independent. But last year, many were struggling to the point of near-closure.
In stepped Save The High Street, with wide-ranging recommendations. Recommendations were tailored for each store, but often included how to build a local online presence, making better use of social media, and how to use the store to engage the local community. And surprisingly quickly, the advice started making a difference.
Sharon from Sharon’s Stones jewellery shop started using Instagram for the first time – and attributed sales directly to it. A new audience had been opened up overnight.
Meanwhile, Marco Tripoli’s fashion boutique was struggling to grow. So he took Save The High Street’s advice and used their artificial intelligence app. The system makes smart recommendations based on stock levels, checks and updates reviews, and has helped to revamp his online profile.
Elsewhere a lingerie store, food shop and vape store have all recently bucked high street trends too. And in most cases, the key theme seems to be experience. The shops in question are recognising that they have to do more to make their physical spaces useful and relevant – and create experiences that can’t be replicated online. So events, taster sessions and community engagements have emerged – all of which are having a positive impact according to the owners.
Barnes isn’t Blackpool – but the same principles apply
Inevitably many will point to the fact that Barnes is an extremely affluent area. A wealthier population is naturally more able to support a healthier high street.
But a lot can be learnt from what is happening here. The improvement comes down to an assessment of localised issues. The stores needed to do more to fight for customers, and they needed to offer experiences. And in many cases, a digitally savvy local community just needed to be reached.
Elsewhere in the UK, some of the lessons are relevant, but some aren’t. Ultimately, high streets are a local issue. In some corners, it’s all about parking; in others, business rates are the no. 1 issue. But what this example shows is that, above all else, we need to engage with the unique issues every high street faces.
Think local, and we might just start a fightback that spreads beyond the wealthier corners of the capital.
Christian Nellemann is the Founder and CEO of XLN, a provider of low-cost phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. A serial entrepreneur, he’s a two-time winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and one of only 17 inductees into their Global Hall of Fame. He is passionate about small businesses, and is a featured columnist for realbusiness.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter @christianxln