The future of the British high street could be bright if experiences are introduced into shopping districts. This was the conclusion of retail experts speaking at Thrings and Business West’s Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (BIBF) Business Breakfast this morning.
Despite no morning ascent due to adverse weather conditions, 200 members of the business community, organisations and media made the early morning decent onto the Ashton Court Estate for the annual breakfast debate.
Posing the question ‘Is this death by a thousand cuts for the high street?’ to the panel of South West retail specialists was TV and radio presenter Steve le Fevre, who steered the lively debate.
John Hirst, chief executive of DestinationBristol and expert in retail regeneration said: “The high street will survive. We have to work hard with partners to create the stage (the high street) for the performers (the retailers).
“We need to get two basic things right – safety and cleanliness. Building on that, these spaces need to provide experiences to attract people to our city centres.”
Shelley Sturdy, brand experience manager at John Lewis has worked for the retail giant for 26 years, where she has been driving experience-led and experimental retailing. Shelley said: “While 40% of our business is now online, there are many things you wouldn’t want to do through a website. It’s about retail reinvention.”
“Malls are asking ‘What can we do to get people in? Have we got the right restaurants, can you have your nails done?’ Dwell time is really important. The response to Cribbs Causeway’s beach has been great this summer and John Lewis is getting people through the door by offering experiences, whether events, personal styling or our new approach to beauty counters.”
Phil Maclean, marketing director and expert in ‘destination retail’ at Eagle One Ltd, a property portfolio company which includes shopping centres and retail parks across the South West, said: “To get buy-in from shoppers requires real authenticity. This means embarking on more than tokenistic efforts that might get a retailer through the next 12 months. A whole change in approach from leadership through to all levels of a company is needed.
“Another issue is accessibility. The UK loses out on £267m of retail revenue per month because the high street is not accessible. That’s why we’re putting disability and invisible disabilities at the core of our retail experience.”
Nigel Jobson MRICS is commercial director at Maybe, a tech company transforming social media conversations into footfall for retailers. He said: “On average 98% percent of national brands don’t talk about place. Imagine if every major brand localised their social media to drive people to the store rather than their websites. The impact on the high street would be phenomenal. You wouldn’t build a shopping centre without roads, and it should be the same for digital.”
Maybe is one of the companies selected to contribute to the UK Government’s High Street Task Force.
James Durie, Chief Executive of the chambers of commerce at Business West and BIBF business member, commented: “The future of the high street is something that concerns businesses far and wide, so we are pleased to have gotten under the skin of some of the issues this morning. We heard some great ways to inject new vibrancy into towns and cities, and hope the debate enabled people to think about new opportunities to add value to Bristol and the wider region.”
Thrings partner Robert Barnes, who sits on the BIBF organising committee, said: “Our Business Breakfast at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is the highlight of our event calendar and delivered – yet again – another magnificent debate tackling a big issue for cities and towns across the country.
“Thrings is extremely proud to be continuing its association with the balloon fiesta, which injects millions of pounds into the local economy. As we saw today, there is huge enthusiasm for the fiesta amongst the business community and I would encourage getting in touch to find out more about membership, networking and sponsorship opportunities.”