On Tuesday, I happened across ‘The Paradise’ on BBC One, a new drama loosely based on an Emile Zola novel. Set in the 1870s in an unnamed northern English city, it tells the story about how Britain’s first department store run by a fictitious John Moray was the start of a fundamental change on the High Street.
“If you want to fight me, Edmund, you will lose,” Moray threatens a small shop owner across the street. “Because it is not a man you are taking on. It is progress.”
Fast forward over a century, a new report by data analyst group Experian argues that high streets have reached crisis point, repeating Mary Portas’ assertion in December last year . In part this is due to greater numbers of people being exposed to online marketing via tablets, smartphones and computers, and choosing to research and buying stuff online. It forecasts that by 2018, over half the population of over 500 towns will be frequent e-commerce users thanks to the maturity of the British market, and that by 2015, online retail spend will increase from 8.9 per cent to 12.1 per cent.
One of the scenes I found really interesting in “The Paradise” was the department store’s first ‘sale’ – something more or less unheard of before on the high street. It was carnivalesque - full of bright colours, noise, excitement, sumptuousness, theatre, fun – a real spectacle. In turn, each customer was welcomed, made to feel special, and encouraged to browse, touch, smell and experience all that was on offer.
These are two of the things that high store retailers need to bring back if they are going to compete with and successfully live alongside online retail: Provide shopping experiences that really impact people positively so they enjoy and immerse themselves in the retail environment. Give them something they can’t find elsewhere – carnival, pleasure, entertainment, fun. Secondly, they are your guests, not customers. Think of a guest invited to your home. You make them feel welcome, special, unique, valued.
And after all that? Like some guests, you won't be able to get rid of them.