High Street Moves To Experiences, Not Shirts And Shoes

Marketers have been pointing out that brands are all about experience. Figures out today show not only that they are correct, but that it is shaping the high street.

The closure of shops is a topic pursued relentlessly over many a dinner party table -- particularly the trend for useful shops that have been around for years being replaced by charity shops. Well, it seems that charity shops are among those retail outlets that are now closing down, alongside shoe shops and fashion stores. On the way up -- and taking their place -- are coffee shops, beauticians and tobacconists. 

I will take a stab in the dark and assume that tobacconists probably means what we all probably knew as a newsagents when we were growing up. Sure, they sell tobacco --  but they also sell drinks, newspapers, sweets, cards and the like. They're the original corner shop or convenience store for getting a drink or a paper on the move, and perhaps a lottery ticket while you're at it. 

As for coffee shops and beauticians, these are already building on a trend for stores to become restaurants. The point is pretty clear -- these experience-led businesses are on the up, whereas shoe shops and fashion stores are in decline. The latter is almost certainly suffering from the major supermarkets selling shoes and clothes as well as ecommerce brands allowing customers to order several products and return those that are not wanted. 

The problem with the high street is clear to see. Parking restrictions means that nipping in and out of shops is tricky and requires that drivers first find a car parking spot, then remember their car registration and buy a ticket, although they probably only want to pop into a shop quickly. The inconvenience means they feel far better served parking for free at an out-of-town shopping complex. Given the popularity for town squares to traditionally have a shoe shop and a fashion store, it's hardly surprising that these items are being bought in supermarkets and online instead.

The thing about a beauty treatment and a coffee is that they are the ultimate service. They can't be provided remotely -- the experience is to go and enjoy a flat white or have a treatment carried out, it can't be bought online, and it's almost certainly worth buying an hour's worth of parking for. That's why it's the providers of these services that are spreading on the high street and the shoe stores and clothing stores are declining.

Interestingly, the gap between openings and closures is getting nearer. The PwC and Local Data Company figures show that closures are at their lowest level since 2010 and that, compared to that year, the difference between opening and closures has been more than halved. To be more precise, just over 220 more stores closed than opened in the first half of this year, compared to more than 500 in 2010.

It's worth remembering that things are not all smooth and the British Retail Consortium has recently warned that October was a particularly poor month on the high street this year. However, it does seem that the march of the charity shop is being overshadowed by the rise of the coffee shop and beauty parlour. 

The trend would appear to match what marketers have been saying for quite some time -- experience is everything. The high street is trending toward this as places to buy shoes, clothes and second-hand books and bric a brac make way for those providing a catch up over an Americano or a beauty treatment ready for a night out at the latest eatery to open up in place of a gent's outfitters.

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