The demise of the British high street has been in the news recently almost as often as reports on the state of the economy as a whole. Fuelled by a continuous procession of failing retailers, journalists and broadcasters are fortunate to be in one industry that is greatly benefitting from the deluge of news stories available.
The causes of high street strife have as a result been discussed in-depth and at great length. Exorbitant business rates, parking charges, lack of collaboration, changing consumer behaviours and online shopping are amongst the major causes of decline. A few months ago I wrote a blog post on the very subject – http://ijgolding.com/2012/10/18/im-not-paying-to-park-why-the-british-high-street-might-be-struggling/
There are many retail experts who are concerned that whilst a lot of ‘talking’ has and continues to be heard (or not as the case may be!), very little much-needed ACTION is being taken to address the actual causes of the problems. Just yesterday it was reported that the ‘High Street Retail Fund’, created last year to help bring new business back to the high streets, has been ‘barely touched’. We know this because Paul Turner-Mitchell, a passionate and committed independent retailer, is not prepared to stand by and watch the environment that he relies on continue to ebb away. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21775773
Paul is not alone. There are a number of well-known and vocal independent retailers who are perfectly placed to advise and assist in the regeneration of our high streets. Among them is Clare Rayner, one of the best known retail ‘gurus’ in the UK – here is a recent article that surmises some of her thoughts. http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2013/03/08/town-team-volunteers-not-enough-skills-for-high-street-rescue.
Whilst the debate continues, the biggest concern has to be that the high street will continue to fall further behind in the economic race for share of the ‘consumer wallet’. One very clear way of attracting consumers to a high street is through a compelling ‘end to end customer experience’. From the ease of access, to free parking, to choice of products, to entertainment, to food available. The ‘whole’ experience is one of the things lacking in the high street.
Interestingly though, the ‘end to end experience’ is often lacking in alternative experiences provided by the high streets competition. Whilst big out of town shopping centres (such as the Trafford Centre in Manchester, or the Westfield shopping centres in London) offer everything the consumer could possibly need, out-of-town supermarkets often do not. Using Tesco as an example – whilst they have very successfully combined the food and non food shopping experience, their stores are not as attractive a destination for a ‘day out’.
It was therefore not a surprise to me that Tesco announced yesterday the purchase of Giraffe – a fantastic family restaurant chain http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/mar/13/tesco-giraffe-food-children-restaurants. I have visited Giraffe on many occasions (mainly in and around London). It is an incredibly family friendly restaurant that serves up great quality food – certainly a significantly superior dining experience to the Cafes that exist in Tesco stores at the moment. In making this move, Tesco will be generating yet further reason to visit their store. They are adding more ‘collateral’ to their customer experience.
I think this is a very clever move. It is important that they maintain the quality of experience that Giraffe currently delivers, but I strongly believe that more consumers will experience Giraffe alongside their weekly shop going forward. Tesco is a ‘mega’ brand that is regularly accused of ‘damaging’ the high street. I do not completely agree with this view. If Tesco are guilty of anything, it is of giving the consumer what the consumer demands – if this were not the case, they would not have been able to achieve the success they have.
The move to incorporate a ‘first rate’ child friendly dining offer into their customer experience, in my opinion demonstrates their willingness to develop and innovate. They are not prepared to stand still and just ‘talk’ about issues and problems. Central and Local government MUST take note of this. Whilst Tesco takes another step forward, the high street takes one step back. The inclusion of Giraffe will be yet another reason to take consumers away from the high street.
Instead of continuing to talk, why not listen to the people best placed to help take the high street in the right direction. Why not take note of the expertise that expert retailers such as Paul and Clare can provide. Unless we do, the high street will continue to struggle. Let’s not see that happen.
You can follow Paul and Clare on twitter @Paul25Ten @clarerayner
What do you think of the Giraffe acquisition? What can be done to save our high streets? Your views are very welcome as always.