‘The death of the high street’ has been a hot topic of discussion for years, and the global pandemic has done little to appease fears of retail’s demise. However, one of the UK’s leading retail-focused business groups, Inc Retail, is speaking out to voice a different perspective; that retail isn’t dead, but simply evolving. The group, which has brands such KNOMO, Chop’d, and Laundrapp, believes that the future of retail lies in redefining the in-store experience and building destinations shoppers want to visit.
According to Inc Retail Group, high street brands have a good chance of not only surviving the global health crisis but also thriving in the post-pandemic world by adapting to meet the evolving needs of the modern consumer. The organisation believes that the introduction of new technologies – such as virtual reality mirrors and self-service checkout options – along with more rapidly rotating stock, could be key to navigating the unique challenges of 21st century retail. Adaptations such as these could create new levels of convenience for shoppers and revolutionise what has gradually become a rather outdated system that fails to align with shopper goals.
Dan Shaw, Inc Retail MD said “It’s very easy to blame the pandemic for the shift from retail to ecommerce, but truth is that retail was in danger long before we’d ever heard the term COVID-19. For the most part, shoppers haven’t moved online because of the outbreak. They’ve moved because the online experience is, quite simply, better – it’s interactive, it’s versatile, and most of all it’s exciting, all without having to spend time waiting in a queue.
“Right now, brands need to extend the online experience to the offline environment and give today’s customers a reason to visit the high street. Consumers want to enjoy their visit to retail and for us it’s about creating destinations that excite. At Inc Retail, we want to use technology to attract younger audiences who now prefer to buy online. We want them to visit a store, using a virtual mirror to try on clothes, and even order them in store for next day delivery if not in stock.”
However, with the UK high street saying goodbye to several big names over the past year, including Topshop and Debenhams, it is clear that businesses will require dedicated support to implement change during a period of crisis. Inc Retail says this support must come from commercial landlords and local councils in the form of business rates and rent reductions, offering essential financial relief for brands as they work to reinvent the retail landscape and bring it back from the brink.
This is a sentiment that is echoed by many other industry leaders, including Next Chief Executive Simon Wolfson who has spoken out to say that commercial tax needs to drop by 35% in order to avoid the demise of the once-loved high street.
Preventing the unnecessary closure of stores as a time when retail isn’t, as is commonly reported, dead, but is simply in a state of change, must become a priority, according to Inc Retail. “Retail needs to be given a fighting chance at evolving at the same rate as today’s shoppers, and this is an opportunity for council leaders and landlords to step up and play a significant role in recovery”. This starts with landlords moving away from the upward only rent model, to a partnership turnover model, where both parties benefit from the success.