Death of The High Street.

As someone who has worked in retail for over 25 years, it saddens me to hear that House of Fraser will close 31 of its 59 stores, which include Oxford Street store in early 2019, with the loss of around 6,000 jobs. It reminds me of the song “This Town is coming like a Ghost Town” written by The Specials some 30 years ago. It gives a whole new meaning to Death of the High Street.

House of Fraser started with a shop in Glasgow 170 years ago. It grew to a retail empire with more than 100 stores which included the Famous store Harrods in 1959 until Al Fayed bought the store in 1985.

Although conditions on the High Street have been tough for a number of years, as a Visual Merchandising Consultant I have observed that retailers need to step back and revaluate their business to ensure it moves with the times and generally keep up to date with trends and store presentation. Many retailers in our towns and cities have not changed or updated themselves in many years. So how does a retailer expect to be ahead of a fast-moving environment and remain profitable if you are not going to adapt to changes in retail?

John Lewis is a great example of a store group that has moved with the times. They have revamped stores, opened new stores and invested in its store experience. They are continually thinking “customer”. It spent £13million on transforming its Oxford Street store and the results speak for themselves.

Harrods and Selfridges are other examples of stores where sales and profits are rising. For the year to January 2018 sales at Selfridges rose 16% to £1.6b while Harrods are head with a 23% increase to £2.1b. So, what are they doing right?

In order to keep customers and attract new customers, stores must continually re-invent themselves. Not only sourcing new and exciting merchandise which can been seen at trade fairs such as Top Drawer in London, Maison Objet in Paris and Ambiente in Frankurt but sourcing directly from suppliers and wholesalers around the World. Coupled with this, stores should be producing their own branded merchandise. A good example is the Harrods Christmas Bear which is renowned around the World. It has an excellent selling price and a good margin.

In addition to this Visual Merchandising plays a massive part in retail. Sadly, there are those C.E.O’s and Senior Managers who think that Visual Merchandising is a luxury however it is a luxury that they cannot live without. Retailers need to understand and realise that their windows are the cost-effective form of advertising. Your customers can sample ‘the menu” so to speak that you are offering. A potential customer only has a few seconds to stop, look and enter the store. Not only do attractive windows help bring in new and existing customers, they allow retailers to increase foot traffic to the store, display new products, highlight promotions and enhance its brand image. Once in the store then excellent store layout, with good product layout is a must.

Visual merchandising is a retail concept that focuses on enhancing the aesthetic appeal of a product or store to attract customers and increase sales. Understanding how a customer browse’s and shops a store is key to revenue and profitability.

Customers want to feel that shopping in your store is a pleasurable experience, They want to be excited by the range of merchandise on offer. Products need to be presented in a way that brings quality and style. The merchandise must represent a “must have purchase”.

Professionally executed Visual Merchandising will give the store huge potential to distinguish the Brand and excite customers. Poorly executed, it will downgrade the store immediately. Give the customer a unique shopping experience, something to remember their visit to your store and ensure that you are the No;1 Destination Store. It certainly works for Selfridges.

We all appreciate that on-line has increased and had a serious knock on effect with the High Street, however its time that retailers started to fight back and attract those customers back in store.  In our history books retail entrepreneurs at Selfridges and Harrods were taking advantage of thinking ahead and the dividends paid.

In 1883 during the build-up of the busy Christmas at Harrods, calamity struck as a fire burnt store down to the ground. In typical fashion Charles Digby took the opportunity to build a fresh, extend the departments and modernise the layout. He fulfilled every Christmas order on time using temporary premises across the work and with the help of his staff, his reputation and that of the store was enhanced.

In 1909 the French pilot Louis Bleriot’s flew from Calais to Dover. Harry Gordon Selfridge took advantage of this and the plane was on display in the Oxford Street department store the following day.

Sadly, there are other retailers I feel who are heading for trouble. They need to take advise from professionals who are at ground level noticing the effects of retail.

It is not just the UK that is suffering. Having recently completed a 4 month project in Singapore, I noticed that several retailers on the island are struggling with their sales and store presentation. I did hear of one store that will be removing its windows in order to create more selling space. This is incredibly sad that this store feels that removing window space to create more selling spaces will generate additional sales. From a visual point, this store will lose its kerb appeal as potential customers walk past.

In New York, Lord & Taylor estimates that a whopping 500,000 people walk past its windows each day, while Macy’s clocks in 10,000 people per hour. Can you imagine if these stores removed their windows?

The future will continue to be bleak however as mentioned, unless retailers start to fight back if they want to succeed. As a Director of The British Display Society, I recently gave a talk to VM students at the Nanyang Poly School of Design in Singapore.  I have never seen so many students who were passionate and enthusiastic about Visual Merchandising and Retail. These millennials are the next generation of the retail movement so let’s take advantage and ignite their drive to succeed.



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