Hertfordshire high streets and the main shopping areas are often the heart and soul of our towns. A few have thrived over the last ten years but the majority have struggled to fight the rise of online shopping.
Over the last year, it seems a week has not gone by without another well-known high street brand vanishing or dancing with administration. The truth is footfall and sales have been on a downward path for a while and with the impact of the coronavirus shutdown now visible, it is time we had an honest conversion about our high streets.
Hertfordshire high streets are in trouble but don’t blame Covid. Hertfordshire high streets are in trouble but don’t blame internet shopping. Our high streets are in trouble because of YOU!
The blame lies with you… to an extent
You have changed. You have embraced online shopping. Your tastes have changed. Your habits have changed. Your working hours have changed. Your interests have changed. Your beliefs have changed.
And whilst you have been doing all that, our high streets have not been able to change fast enough, thus leaving us with High Streets and shopping areas that simply are not fit for purpose.
It feels wrong to point fingers but the main reason our high streets are struggling is local councils, landlords, and some larger chains have been far too slow to adapt to the above changes – they just don’t seem to be able to work together.
Very few people go into town to visit one place or purchase one item. Amazon has already won that battle and with ‘voice search’ set to change online shopping’, high street retailers and local councils need to focus on the ‘shopping experience’.
5 important steps to improve our high streets
1. Remove the gauntlet
To many Hertfordshire residents, shopping on our high streets has become somewhat of a gauntlet. Up first is the fight to find a parking space. Then you often have the challenge of not stepping in someone’s food from the night before.
Once you have done that and looked up, you have made eye-contact with a chugger and their clipboard – now your motivation to carry on shopping is now below 50%.
They can be very persistent; making the elderly extremely vulnerable and shoppers avoid areas of town where chuggers operate, which hardly helps local retailers.
Visiting the high street should be a positive experience and the best way to keep it positive is to remove the negative aspects of shopping and they fall into two categories… costs and disruption.
2. Spice it up a bit
This is a tough request but an essential one. Locate shops that complement each other near each other. An example of this would be to have a greengrocers next to a bakery or butchers. Whilst landlords are free to rent to whoever they want, it would be beneficial to shoppers if there were particular areas like the food quarter or beauty quarter.
If shoppers cannot satisfy their needs, all in one place, they are motivated to shop online or find a new location. It should come as no surprise that footfall in out-of-town retail parks has increased.
Pop-up stores also offer some variety and can be great experiences for younger shoppers. The Mercedes Pop-up in The Maltings St Albans was very popular around Christmas.
3. Flexible hours
The only person allowed to mention 9 to 5 is Dolly Parton. We no longer live in a nine-to-five world and trading hours need to reflect that. There are many people who, with the right motivation would shop before 9am. What kind of motivation? How about free parking before 10am and entertainment hubs for young children?
4. Reward loyalty
I personally would return to the high street weekly if I knew I was being rewarded for it. I would love to see an App that gives me discounts and unique offers. Online shopping has mastered this and I cannot understand why high streets have not adopted it. One app, scan my receipt/screen at point of purchase, get points and get offers. This could be linked to free Wi-Fi indoors and outdoors.
5. Quality Street food
I touched on the idea of having food quarters earlier and this should not be limited to fast food retailers. Street food has dramatically improved over the last five years in terms of quality and variety. Traditional and world food is becoming popular.
Some of these ideas have been incorporated but they have been implemented in a reactive fashion. If all the stakeholders worked collaboratively in staying ahead of the curve and predicting shopping trends, we would have vibrant high streets and shopping areas to be proud of.