This article is about the future of branding, marketing and how the two sit together on the UK’s High Street. It’s inspired partly by a Radio 4 Interview with Mary Portas and partly by the statistics on Next’s Christmas profits.
On 3rd January, clothing and home retailer Next PLC announced a “better than expected” Christmas in terms of profits. While this may not sound like huge news, the announcement has had an impact on the company’s shares, seeing them jump by 1.5% over the festive period. Why the sudden enthusiasm? In part, the Next statistics quell a fear that the traditional retailers are doomed in the face of ecommerce and out of town shopping centres.Why the sudden enthusiasm? In part, the Next statistics quell a fear that the traditional retailers are doomed in the face of ecommerce and out of town shopping centres.
What may not be safe, however, is the British High Street. According to the Radio 4 report on the statistics, Next saw a drop in High Street sales (6%) which was offset by their online profits (rising by 13.5%). In the same report, Mary Portas says that online purchases will make up “around 30 percent of sales within the next five years”, and this is only expected to rise. Put simply, these statistics could point to a future without bricks and mortar retailers.
What would this mean for city centres? If retailers close their physical shops and no one takes over the space, does it point to abandoned, I Am Legend (or The Omega Man, if you prefer) style urban graveyards?
It’s easy, for us at least, to fall into the trap of creating a dystopian future in our heads. A future in which no one ever leaves the house other than to go to work – there are no shops to go to, the city is purely for offices and flats, an increasing focus on health means no one drinks, and the internet means no one needs to socialise in person. But, that’s being a bit ridiculous. In reality, the alternative to the bricks and mortar store that Portas outlines is more likely, and brings more opportunities for creative businesses like Arch.
Portas posits that High Street stores “will be more about experience, behaviours – the retail spaces [could] become like marketing tools for brands”. The rate of store closures means that the High Street landscape will have completely changed in the next few decades, and this potential replacement is as likely as any other.
The way Portas describes her experiential idea makes us think of the Apple store – a gleaming, potentially understaffed representation of an ethereal brand on earth. It’s more likely that her vision is of department-store-style complexes that fully represent the capabilities of each brand. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.
This would open up a whole new realm for marketers and creative agencies – a fresh channel to engage audiences and market brands in an alternative way. High Streets are to become “social places” – no longer revolving around consumerism and buying/selling, but around meeting and socialising.
To bring everything back to Next, the evolution of the High Street space isn’t a sudden thing, but a gradual progression. Arch client Gino D’Acampo has recently signed a deal to open restaurants in Next stores across the UK – perhaps in a step towards High Street retailers becoming “full-service” shopping experiences.
If the branding experience route is something that happens, it’ll be a revolutionary moment in the marketing and design industry. While we would lament the potential decline of the High Street, it would create a huge opportunity for more business, more creative output and more growth on the part of agencies like Arch.