Future high street

Is the future high street going to be dominated by the Arkwright’s?

It is good news for the retail industry as lockdown measures are starting to ease, with non-essential shops including high street shops, department stores and shopping centres given the go-ahead to reopen on the 15th June providing they are covid-secure. As retailers prepare to reopen, they need to evaluate what they have learnt from the challenges and key opportunities the pandemic has provided to enable them to drive the industry into the future. There is no denying this global event is encouraging retailers of all sizes to innovate and think outside the box – and if larger retailers want to adapt to a post-coronavirus world, they may need to learn a thing or two from the smaller businesses who have been able to react and adapt quickly to the challenges. Whether local retailers have been a saving grace, or people have made a conscious decision to support their local businesses – the boost of COVID-19 may be a real silver lining for the Arkwright’s of the retail industry. Has the UK fallen in love with going local, and will these Arkwright’s have a sustained place on the future high street?

Doing it differently

As much as e-commerce giants like Amazon are thriving, so are the smaller players. Despite the 36.5% tank in consumer spending, local retailers from the bakers to the candlestick makers have been experiencing a 40% soar. From wine delivered to the doorstep, to restaurants making the switch to takeaway – businesses who previously lacked an online presence are reaping the benefits of multi-channel retailing. Caution around large gatherings has inspired visits to smaller, safer stores that can control numbers in a way their larger counterparts may struggle. Sunderland-based butcher’s, Fullwell’s, have been able to limit the volume of people in their stores by starting an online service to contactlessly deliver meat, pastries and desserts to people unable or unwilling to leave their homes. With the undeniable effect of coronavirus on the economy, supporting local businesses has never been more important – but has it ever been easier? As people stay at home, these innovative small retailers are in the right place.

A habit hiatus?

Retailers might be thinking differently, but so are consumers. They are likely shopping in places they wouldn’t usually consider or perhaps trying out online shopping for the first time. This has given consumers the opportunity to try new products and services, maybe ones they will continue to use long after normal life is restored. It may seem like an interim from normal consumer tendencies, but what if shopping in this way has improved their quality of life?

A sense of community spirit

Purchasing from these small shops may become a habit that consumers choose to sustain. The government guidelines to shop for essentials as infrequently as possible is more sustainable, and a nod back to how things were a decade ago. This readjustment may open consumer’s eyes to unnecessary spending or mean they value the potential of local shopping. As local businesses go to greater lengths to serve their community, claims that customers have fallen in love with local retailers during the crisis are no surprise. As people come together during this difficult time, the concept of community is no longer taken for granted – and this is largely due to these smaller retailers. Will customers stay committed to the genuine relationships built with the Arkwright’s? Or will we see a shift back to the big players?

Transforming the high street

The personality and support small retailers have shown for their local community may well translate to a comeback for local retailers. Consumers are likely to consider paying more to support the livelihoods of the people they know, that live in their neighbourhoods, especially when they have gone the extra mile during the pandemic. In places like Crediton, a rural market town, the independent butchers, bakers and general stores are a way of life, with lively independent trade a key selling point of some towns. As retail evolves to keep the high street thriving, will re-imagining them with innovative independent retailers be the key?

Just a fling?

After the majority of stores re-open on the 15th June, will this love affair with local retailers continue or is it just a feelgood story to lighten the dark times? When the temptation of stopping at larger retailers becomes more convenient, will community values remain important? When we have returned to a faster pace of life, with less time and disposable income to visit the butcher and the greengrocer, can the support for local businesses be sustained?

Convenience will always be key. The omnichannel systems some local retailers have started to put in place – their online systems, delivery services, click and collect – need to be maintained if they want their popularity to be. To compete with larger retailers, they need to push this further, using technology that centralises product detail, pricing and availability. Small retailers need to ride this wave of local enthusiasm and take advantage.

To reach a model of social and economic sustainability, retailers need to get ahead and embrace the opportunities offered by technology. Whether it is click-and-collect bringing local retailer’s diverse produce together, access to a local butcher from every village shop or evening collection to accommodate commuters, the Arkwright’s need to adapt to life after coronavirus as quickly and efficiently as they did to the pandemic itself.

The UK might start to “live and love local” longer term, akin to countries such as France where 39% of the population prioritise supporting local retailers. Yet the growth of small local retailers doesn’t have to threaten the position of larger retailers; cities such as Manchester show the possibility of thriving independent scenes alongside multinational stores. This shows how they can co-exist and move the high street into the future. Larger retailers need to learn lessons from the level of innovation and customer-centric service the Arkwright’s have achieved if they want to co-exist in the future high street.

Retail247 can help support retailers maintain customer trust and to take advantage of the bounce back in consumer spending. Retailers who make their customers feel safe, who have adapted and keep up with how quickly the industry is evolving are going to be the ones who lead the way going forward. If you would like more information about how our solutions can help sustain your retail longevity, please get in touch.