Store experience is key to reviving the high street

High street marketers should focus on delivering a great destination experience, writes John Viccars, shopper strategist at RPM.

October’s widely publicised Grimsey Review on reviving the high street, which set out an alternative view to Mary Portas’ 2011 report, was praised for offering a "practical and realistic vision for the future of the high street".

But you could argue it failed high street marketers by neglecting actionable shopper marketing insights; the very things that have the potential to draw consumers back onto the high street.  

Grimsey talks about the need to develop the high street model through a variety of changes such as high-level government positions to digital community hubs. Whilst there are some great suggestions here, they do not contribute much towards creating more shopper-friendly retail environments.

To find relevance with shoppers, high street marketers need a clear and single-minded approach to winning back the crowds. And that approach should have at its core the principle of ‘shopper marketing’ (understanding how people shop and what their motivations are in order to sell more).

Busy lifestyles

Contemporary retail marketing has evolved around the shopper’s need for convenience. People’s increasingly busy lifestyles created the trend for more ‘convenience retail’ which evolved from previous ‘destination retail’: grocery became plus-sized for drive-to, convenient formats are everywhere and transit retail better services shoppers on-the-go. Consumer expectations and demands around convenience have additionally increased in line with the prevalence of e-commerce and, more lately, m-commerce; both of which have elevated consumer convenience to new heights.

Westfield shopping malls and the proliferation of retail parks show how destination retail has become a proper experience.

High street retail marketers score pretty well when it comes to focusing on convenience. Transit retail, in particular, has embraced the need for convenience with most petrol stations now including food offerings like M&S Simply Food as well as cash machines and coffee stations. In fact, retail marketers are now so good at convenience that shoppers are developing a heightened need to shop for products they want, rather than need, and they’re taking more time to do it.

This ‘want over need’ dynamic leads to the second biggest change in retail: shoppers’ need for ‘experience’. Westfield shopping malls and the proliferation of retail parks show how destination retail has become a proper experience. And the benefits are clear: Oracle research shows 81% of shoppers are willing to pay more for better customer experience with nearly half (44%) willing to pay a premium.

With two clearly defined shopper need states – the need for ‘convenience’ and desire for ‘experience’ – anything in between won’t do. Retailers who have vanished in recent years – think Woolworths, Blockbusters, Comet – didn’t do either of these things well.

But which should a high street marketer favour – convenience or experience? Where convenience retail is about functionality, experience is more emotional and unlocks the purse strings. Service retailers such as coffee shops and nail bars have created a much-needed high street success story in recent times as they provide an experience shoppers want. With the aforementioned developments in convenience retail it’s clear the high street needs to repurpose its core offer.

Focus on experience

In keeping with the principles of shopper marketing, experience is the temptation that makes driving to the high street and the headache of parking worthwhile. So my theory is that high street marketers should single-mindedly focus on experience. Retail marketers must create need and want through great destination experience if they want consumers to head to their local high street. Otherwise, the truth is, people won’t bother.

From coffee shops that hold knitting classes to butchers who talk about local farms and provide cooking courses; casual sports retailers who provide meeting points for running clubs; and bakeries that tweet what’s coming out of the oven; smart experience focused retail can be amazing, both for the retailer… and the local community. Great experience gets a much needed footfall driver: word-of-mouth.

So although veteran retailer Bill Grimsey has some excellent advice to offer, I believe high street marketers should focus on applying the principles of shopper marketing to better understand their store experience. 

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