• Play Retail Ltd.

A walk down the high-street.

We asked one of our Account Managers, Adam Blennerhassett to discuss how the high-street has changed in the UK and how brands need to adapt to survive. Check out his insight below:

“Large high-street store facing imminent closure in the UK”. “2,500 shops lost from the top 500 UK high-streets in 2018”. These are just some of the headlines that we are familiar with seeing in our news feeds every week, painting a stark reality for local, urban shopping paradises.

When I see these headlines in the news, I think back to the days my mother and I would walk down Kingston-upon-Thames high-street. I vividly remember being woken up early on a Saturday morning, to go to almost every store on the high-street with mum, in the attempt to beat the Saturday lunch time rush. With its two M&S’s, a BHS and the enormous shopping centre ‘Bentall Centre’, these destinations formed a retail hub that thrived, before retail parks came into the


What’s changed? Well, other than that being almost 18 years ago, EVERYTHING. Nowadays, it’s easier not to get caught up in this high-street traffic, with most fashion, cosmetic and supermarket brands offering dynamic web platforms that have simple paths to purchase, often with the option of next/same day delivery. Due to the rise in online sales, we now have a population of consumers that have existed “always online”, with no memory of a time when shopping online wasn’t a thing. It is essential for us as retail designers to excite these shoppers with memorable in-store experiences and bring them back to the beating heart of local communities.

Now, it’s not like we didn’t see the demise of the UK high street coming, as some did. It falls to the brands that have over expanded, those who have rolled out stores with the same repetitive store layout, same tedious customer journey and same monotonous (catching a theme here) experiences.

This was presumably done in the hope that consumers would flout the new rising trend of online shopping and return to the traditional brick and mortar locations for an “experience with the brand”. Ultimately this “experience” didn’t exist. To understand why the high-street has been in a slow decline, we must look at the brands who are disappearing and wonder if they are really relevant anymore? Unfortunately, some would argue that the answer is a resounding no. But why?Brands need relevance to attract consumers to them, as to be relevant is to stay on the upward curve with new trends and sub-markets changing every day. Shoppers have developed a mentality of “the customer always being right” and from this have created a high expectation of the type of experience they want when they shop.

To combat this, brands must have a clear cohesive online and offline strategy that compliments one another. At every stage of the path to purchase brands must create a memorable experience to initiate a strong link to the shoppers needs and retain repeat customers. Prime examples of where this is being applied effectively can be seen within the Cosmetics sector. NARS, Huda Beauty, Charlotte Tilbury are all leaders in building brand advocacy for their shoppers both online and offline.

Online Marketing Strategy - Charlotte Tilbury

Ultimately, for these high-street and future brands to become more successful, it is imperative that they revolutionise their brand strategy to be more authentic. They must do this in a way that not only maintains the trust and loyalty of their current brand advocates, but also introduces new shoppers through an online start point into a physical store visit. Stores MUST feel like they belong to the shopper personally, this can be achieved by promoting key brand values in an organic way and not be just another dull blanket rollout. Investment in tech can provide valuable data from your in-store consumer. From this data you can learn about shopper buying habits and begin to know the consumer better than they know themselves.

Magic Mirrors - Charlotte Tilbury

For any high street or first time brand thinking of doing a concession, pop-up or complete store, it’s time to take a risk and stand out from your competitors. Here at Play, we are committed to bringing that strategy and engaging design to your projects, as every brand needs to be relevant in these modern and online times. Engaging with the humanistic nature of shoppers is a necessity within your store design. Introduce hidden elements that customers can notice for the first or tenth time, they have visited your store. Create social moments that can be shared, such as Instagramable selfies and live community engaging feedback. In being critical with your experiences and you will benefit form greater social exposure and more importantly increase sale potential.

Adam Blennerhassett

Account Manager