What is the Future of the High Street?
The last 12 months have seen some real highs and also some lows for the high street. The departure of some iconic names, but also a renewed passion for shopping and supporting local. With 2 decades of industry experience, here to help us make sense of it all, we’re thrilled to welcome Catherine Erdly, founder of the Resilient Retail Club.
Hi Catherine, thanks so much for joining us. What impact has the pandemic had on people's desire to shop local?
I think one of the unexpected positive impacts that the pandemic had on society is the way that local businesses have really been able to play a role in their community’s response.
Across the duration of the pandemic, we’ve seen local businesses all over the country stepping up and helping those around them, even at times where some of the larger national retail chains struggled to keep up with demand. We’ve seen local stores do drop-offs for people who couldn’t leave their homes, amend their opening times for those who may be vulnerable, and go that extra step in terms of offering curbside pickup, local delivery, and even QR codes on windows so people could shop from the street.
Because we largely haven’t been able to travel, the number of people choosing to do their shopping locally has gone up massively also and how people felt about these stores was strengthened even more by how they had been a part of the local community.
How has the process of looking for products online changed?
There’s a really interesting new technology called NearSt, which combines physical inventory with Google search. For example, if you wanted to buy AA batteries, you could search for them and not only would you be shows results for where you could buy it online, but also where nearby physically has them in stock at that time so you could buy them locally. It’s a fascinating technology that has been backed by Google and recently raised a lot of money in a funding round - and they give us unique insight into how people are searching online too. We know now, both backed by evidence and anecdotally, that more people are wanting to shop locally than ever before, largely because of the positive sentiment mentioned above.
Going forward, what will customers be looking for from their bricks and mortar shops?
I would like to think, and there’s a lot of evidence to say, that people would like to keep supporting their local stores. In terms of reopening in April, though, first and foremost people want to feel safe in the spaces they are in. At times where non-essential retail was allowed over the past year, we saw store owners take lots of safety steps to implement things like social distancing, in-store customer limits, shields and guards, and sanitisers. I think these things will still be incredibly important this time around too. Some of the evidence suggests that feeling safe is going to be a key decision making factor for if a customer will visit a store.
With this in mind, retailers should be thinking now about how they will communicate this information to their network. They could have videos talking them through the safety precautions, showing them what you’ve been up to in terms of getting the store ready, and even sharing your cleaning routine so they understand the lengths you are going to in order to keep them safe.
And what will they be looking for in terms of product?
The second thing that customers are really going to want to know is what they can expect in-store. Even during the period last year when retailers were open, we saw a huge decline in footfall - however, those who were shopping were doing so more, with very high purchase intention.
What we’ve lost is browsing behaviour and whilst there’s no double that it will return in time, until then, retailers need to make sure they’re giving customers the info they need to bring them in-store. Customers are routinely saying they want to be able to thoroughly research their purchases ahead of time. So think about how you are linking your online and offline presence through things like up to date product imagery on your website, video tours to explain what products are in-store, and email showcases of new stock. Give people the ability to do their research so that, when they do make it to your store, they are excited and ready to purchase......
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