The high street is the quintessential British shopping experience, contends Jonnie Matthew, founder of Solillas – and thus predictions of its demise are somewhat misplaced …
Almost every town has a high street, making it the most common street name in the UK. It’s the centre of commercial life – a place where you can buy, sell, or trade almost anything.
Yet, in the past 10 years, high street shopping has been on the decline. With one in seven shops currently boarded up and 15 more closing every day, is the high street finally dead?
No – at least, not all of it. Some sectors are not struggling. In fact, while many shops have closed their doors, the high street is growing for some outlets like coffee shops, takeaway food, and other leisure-related shops.
Here are four reasons why I believe the high street is not dead:
1. Breaking through
Brands give retailers a marketing budget – whether they sell online or on the high street. Ecommerce sites, however, charge a lot more for their prime advertising positions, whereas in-store is a much more level playing field.
This means that new homewares and furniture brands can gain more visibility for their products in store than online, helping toward the essential first purchase. Without that visibility, new brands will struggle to break through into the mainstream as they will always have a smaller marketing budget than the big, established players.
2. Touch it, feel it, sit on it
When a customer purchases from a new brand for the first time, they’ll need to know that the product is high quality and will meet their needs. They’ll want to see the range of colour and size options rather than relying on edited product shots.
Some online retailers are using free delivery and returns to get around the issue of trying before you buy, but most retailers don’t have the resources or capacity to match this – let’s face it, delivering a sofa only to have to pick it up again a few days later is expensive. Hence, high street retail is still an essential step for many of these purchases.
3. Building brand belief
Another reason brands won’t abandon the high street is the powerful effect associating with established retailers can have, especially for new start-ups. Brands can be treated with scepticism if they are unknown and untested. Online, the situation is even more challenging.
Often you don’t know whether the website you are purchasing from is even legitimate, you have few guarantees that the product will be as advertised, or that you will even receive the item if the delivery goes wrong.
It’s much harder to pack-up shop and move to a different physical location, meaning high street shops have a greater investment in their brand. Because of this, high street shops come with a sense of trust that ecommerce sites struggle to replicate.
New or relatively unknown brands can benefit greatly from the association with a bigger, established, and trusted high street brand. Customers know that if they go to John Lewis, for example, the products on offer will have been tried and tested for quality by John Lewis buyers. The product isn’t likely to break or fall apart easily, and if it does, they can always take it back to the shop.
4. Real-time feedback
Feedback is essential for most brands. Not only does it help you improve, it connects you with what your customers actually want. We find this feedback invaluable to our design process and wouldn’t have found the success we have without it.
For example, we meet with our retailers regularly to find out what customers have been saying about our products on the shop floor, and we integrate that feedback into our design process, creating new products in a matter of months.
Online retailers don’t get such quick feedback. Instead, many use analytics to gain broad insights into the upcoming trends, and by the time the analysis is complete, trends have moved on. Only on the high street can you access such rapid and in-depth feedback – making the high street essential for the development of new, exciting trends in homewares and furniture.
Jonnie Matthew is founder of Solillas, known for its update on the traditional Spanish leather sandal. Last year Solillas’ gross sales topped £1m, and since 2014 the company has sold over 100,000 pairs of shoes – they are currently sold nationwide in Office, Schuh, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Liberty.