Saving Bournemouth’s High Street

Saving Bournemouth’s High Street

Saying that retailers and shop owners in the UK have had a tough time of it over the past couple of years is like saying Brexit has proved a bit tricky for parliament. A whopping 3,000 shops have closed in the UK this year and 61% of people fear for the high street’s future according to a new report from KIS Finance.

As you will have doubtless noticed, Bournemouth hasn’t been immune to this decline. At the time of writing Rightmove has 78 retail premises to rent or buy and the Bournemouth Echo recently reported that Old Christchurch Road had 20 shops standing empty. The fear is that, that the total number of unoccupied commercial properties will rise further once the Christmas boom subsides.

At Coversure Poole we are acutely aware of the state of the retail sector. We operate from retail premises on Ashley Road, Poole and are surrounded by small shops, many of which come to us for their shop insurance.

Why Are Bournemouth’s Retailers Struggling?

So, what are the reasons for this alarming decline? The most commonly cited ones are:

  • The rents that commercial landlords charge – though in their defence they are simply trying to run a business too
  • Business rates – which leave retailers at a disadvantage when compared to their online-only competitors
  • Online competitions – specifically the rise and rise of internet shopping, so-called ecommerce

But what if ecommerce could help be the saviour of the high street rather than its conqueror? In this latest blog from Coversure Poole, we hear from digital marketing specialist Giles Luckett about his belief that if offline retailing is to thrive and survive, it needs to get its online act together and steal some on online’s thunder.

The Rise, Fall and Rise of Ecommerce in the UK

When I started in ecommerce back in 1999, the idea of being able to dial up, click a mouse and have goods – wine in my case at madaboutwine.com – delivered was a revolutionary one. I remember visiting wholesalers, hosting public tastings and writing ads that eulogised this amazing new opportunity. How consumers could choose from a virtually limitless range of wines as we weren’t confined by retail shelf space. How the days of having some superior-looking merchant roll their eyes as you didn’t really know what you wanted or couldn’t quite pronounce Auxey Duresses. How the days of lugging a twenty-kilo case of Champagne back to the car were over and how you could whet your appetite by reading about wines before ordering them up. We were offering a new level of service. We had the wines, we were cheap, we were super convenient and we were going to take the world by storm!

And guess what?

We closed within a year.

Why? Because while we were many of the things listed above, we weren’t the last. We weren’t convenient. It wasn’t inconvenient only to be able to pay with cards – and downright scary from a cyber-security perspective back in those days, so much so that in 1999 you could pay Amazon be cheque. It wasn’t convenient to have deliveries coming only on weekdays and during working hours. It wasn’t convenient to have no-one you could ask a question of in real time. It wasn’t convenient to have to wait 3-5 working days to get your wine. And it wasn’t convenient to have to chase up deliveries only to find that they had been lost or broken and to have to repeat the whole process again.

The result? High Street and other offline merchants continued to thrive and online ones went back, not to the drawing board, but to the High Street. And that’s when the e-tail revolution really began.

We looked at what the High Street could offer and we unashamedly looked to shoplift their advantages. We upped our delivery services so that it was almost as, if not more, convenient than offline. Take Next, for example. Order by midnight and your order will be with you by the next day. Whereas if you miss the 8 o’clock closing time for a store, you’ll have to make a fresh trip the following day.

We took merchandising seriously. Gone were the days of grainy jpegs and on stark white backgrounds with no descriptions or selling points. We started offering virtual experiences so you could see what clothes looked like on, which wines suited which food and added masses of content, content that informed and entertained. Our shop windows became big, brighter, more exciting and, crucially, changed rapidly.

We began interacting with customers through live chat, through social media and through reviews and we made Windows shopping as much of an experience as window shopping – the difference being we offered it from the comfort of people’s homes 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Such was our success that there is now a phenomenon called ‘S-commerce’ or ‘Social Commerce’ where big e-tailers have entire stores backed into social media platforms and where people come together and talk about products and shopping. Many even say sites like eBay are part of social media.

We robbed traditional retail blind. We stole their ideas, adapted them for a virtual world and took over the world. And it is this, I believe, that traditional retailers need to do now. They need to steal online’s thunder by creating what is known as omni-channel retailing, a clicks and mortar business that can beat online-only at its own game.

How Can The High Street Steal Online’s Thunder?

Shop owners need to start thinking beyond their front window. The idea of retail of being either on or offline is redundant. Modern retailing knows no bounds and as online has taken offline’s advantages, it’s now time for offline to return the favour. Here are some examples of how you can do this:

  • Get a website (and take it seriously!) – it never ceases to amaze me how many shops have lousy websites. And I’m not talking about just small businesses here, I mean big retailers too. Sainsbury’s, for example, have spent millions making their in-store experience as easy, welcoming and enjoyable as possible. From the lighting to installation of coffee shops, from the self-serve tills to the rain canopies in the carpark, their attention to delivering a great experience has been excellent. So why is it then that their website takes the fun out of functional and is about as inspiring as a dented tin of value beans? Conversely look at Tinsmiths, a small interiors store in Ledbury whose online offering is as stylish, engaging and downright lovely as being in the store itself. They have grasped the fact the fact that their physical store has a reach limit – how far people will be prepared to travel to come and see them. Online your reach is global and by giving a great impression of your store you can reach an audience of millions.

Think about it: You wouldn’t fill your shop window with tatty goods, with missing price tags, terrible signage that made finding you impossible and make getting to the checkout a challenge, would you? The days of having a site and expecting people to use it are over. No matter what your niche you will be competing with many other players. You need to fight for their attention as hard as you do to get them in off the street

  • Up your service offering – convenience is all in retail so make it convenient. Offer click and collect, invest in a delivery service either by using a fast courier service or, better still, take matters into your own hands deliver the goods yourself. Yes, you’ll need to invest in a delivery vehicle and get specialist courier and goods in transit insurance, but retail is a service business so invest in that service
  • Merge on and offline shopping experiences – as I say the on and offline divide is dead, so look to bring the two together. Showcase the brilliance of your physical store and its advantages – tastings, specialist advice, free fitting and in-store exclusives – and do the same in-store. Tag window posters with Facebook addresses so they can see more when you are closed, get mobile push notifications set up so you can virtually grab shoppers’ attention and allow online ordering for delivery in-store. This last idea allows you to offer a much bigger inventory without having to invest in extra storage or hold a larger inventory
  • Be mobile friendly – if like me you’re of a certain age, you may recall Yellow Pages slogan of ‘Let your fingers do the walking’ by calling ahead to see a store has what you want. These days the phone is just as important, only for different reasons:
  • 60% of the 3.5bn daily Google searches are now done on mobiles
  • 82% of those are ‘near me’ searches
  • 88% of local searches result in a visit or a call within 24hrs

Wow: That’s some opportunity. So, make sure your store is easy to find. Complete you Google Maps listing, make sure your Google My Business listing is completed and get as many reviews as you can

  • Use social media – social media, be it Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn can be a powerful tool, but you need to use it properly. Social Media isn’t Selling Media. You want to use it as a local engagement tool, a way for your customers to talk to you and a way for you to reply. So, join local Bournemouth and Poole forums and groups, talk about the local area and promote events and promotions in your store.

The High Street is under pressure like never before. There’s no denying that, but as I say there are things you can do. 61% of people being fearful of losing their local retailers within 10 years and the millions of daily searches for local services shows that customers want to use you: You just need to make it easy and worthwhile for them to do so.

Giles

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