I was talking on BBC Radio last week about how Canterbury County Council in Kent was putting up parking charges in order to raise more money. I found myself suggesting that, actually, there should be no parking charges because the crisis on the High Street was sufficiently advanced that anything that encouraged people to shop was a good thing.
While this did sound a bit excessive, and even completely unreasonable, it was prompted by my frustration that, like in so many areas of life these days, no one has a strategy, and no one can be bothered to collaborate to actually get things done. In retail, this is about the lack of a plan from local government or the willingness to work with landlords, retailers, consumer groups.
Workable ideas are still needed
Worse, there isn’t really a debate going on about what to do about the high street. Mary Portas was the first to really raise the issue and she tried to do something about it, but all she gets is criticism that what she was proposing was unworkable. OK, so now what?
My concern is that there is really no definition of a High Street, so everybody’s suggestions for transforming it are partisan and can’t really apply to retail as a whole. On the one hand you have a company like Mothercare which went into administration last week where all the stores are going to close, and the same week you had an announcement from Primark that it was going to open 19 more stores, so it’s pretty clear that stores retail is not dead, it’s simply changing.
Traditional business strategies under strain
Some people like to take comfort from the idea of good and bad retailers – the good thrive and the bad die, but it is not that simple. Mothercare was not a bad retailer; it is easy to say that it did not read the writing on the wall soon enough and therefore was slow to respond, but it was a well-run business whose only real crime was not getting the online business organised fast enough.
Contrast this with the discovery that opening a store significantly drives up online sales. Here then is the clue; the customer is now digital in their behaviour and wants stores and online to be integrated almost invisibly. This may sound like yet another long journey to go on, after all, why didn’t the Digital Transformation journey deliver this?
Simple. Digital Transformation has only just begun. Single view of stock, customer and order is still a pipe dream for many retailers, whilst in the stores, Click and Collect is only the tip of the online/offline integration iceberg.
The only question that retailers are asking themselves now is, can I transform quickly and keep up the momentum before the administrators come calling?