The clouds of doom and gloom have been hovering for years, but now, with COVID-19, reality is really beginning to bite for the traditional high street. Three major chains, including teen clothing stalwart Topshop, have collapsed in the last six months, leaving critics questioning the future of high street shopping. But although the rise of Internet shopping definitely dented high street footfall (even before COVID), there is still a place for physical space in our shopping experience. The future of the high street requires it to evolve, and property managers should be prepared to embrace this.
The need for in-person interactions
Bricks and mortar shops are far more expensive to run than online retailers but they do offer one thing the Internet doesn’t: in-person interaction between staff and customers. The knowledge available from staff on the floor of a bricks and mortar company has no real parallel online yet and retailers need to take advantage of that to ensure customers walk away feeling satisfied and willing to come back.
Creating personalised experiences and offering something that you can’t get online, from the sense of community an affiliated running club can give a sports store to a personalised repair experience (cafes dedicated solely to repairs are currently springing up all over Sweden) is the way to differentiate a bricks and mortar retailer from its e-tailer equivalent.
Attracting consumers through appealing to children with play areas, crafting workshops and other communal activities they can’t experience on the Internet are all other successful ways of bringing shoppers off-line and into your stores.
What should agents do?
So when it comes to the future of the high street, where do property managers come in? Offering short-term leases on commercial property to allow shops and businesses to ‘plug and play’ is the way to extend the high street a lifeline and futureproof their own portfolio at the same time. Traditional, long-term leases can drown out the types of young entrepreneurs who are prepared to take on the high street and transform it. Being open to short-term leases and the creation of a yoga studio one minute and a fashion brand the next is the best way for property managers to harness a growing trend and make it work for them.
And how about their own offices? How do we make sure a bricks and mortar property agency can compete with its online rivals? The answer to that lies in the sense of community that shops like lululemon and Sweaty Betty provide so well.
Letting agencies or property businesses with high street offices need to reconsider what they can they use to attract customers to their premises, as the high street no longer has guaranteed access to footfall. Hosting community events (when government guidelines allow them), facilitating and showcasing local talent (such as in the art or literary world) are ways to put your agency at the centre of the community, bring new life into your office and make sure you attract the right kind of clients in the process.