Reaction: Mary Portas retail recommendations approved
The Forum of Private Business, Play.com, Initials and MARS\Y&R comment on the Mary Portas recommendations being accepted by Government.
Jane Bennett, head of campaigns at the Forum of Private Business, said: “While it is refreshing to see the Government has embraced the spirit of the Portas Review and clearly understands the importance of the British high street, we feel that it hasn’t nearly gone far enough.
“The issues of parking and business rates, we believe, are absolutely crucial to the future success of the high street and the small, independent retailers who ply their trade there. And while there has been movement here, it is not nearly bold or brave enough.
“The Government says it will ask councils to ‘look closely’ at town centre car parking charges. This is simply not enough. Councils earn money from this and are hardly likely to give it up. Essentially, the Government needs to fund this initiative if it is serious about nursing the high street back to health. Unless car parking charges are abolished, the high street will never be able to compete on a like-for-like basis with out-of-town centres, where parking is universally free.
“For hard pressed consumers, if it is a choice between paying even a nominal charge to park when they visit the high street, or paying nothing at all to visit an ‘out of town’, it will be a no brainer for the majority. Unless this issue is tackled head on – and increasing footfall is all important here – everything else is irrelevant.”
Jamie Matthews, CEO at INITIALS Marketing, said: “The Government’s commitment in helping turn around high streets so they’re the ‘beating heart of their communities’ once again is commendable. But as the old adage goes, consumers never see brilliant strategy, just brilliant execution. And that’s where I question the Government’s wholesale adoption of Portas’ recommendations. Kick starting plans with the High Street Innovation Fund and a £10m pot of money smacks of a scattergun approach. While the fund is supposed to encourage local councils and landlords to raise a further £30m to help reverse vacancy rates and support new business start-ups, £10m equates to a mere £10k per town centre in England and Wales alone.
“It’s very well for Grant Shapps to say he wants to encourage local shops to stay open later and drive a “vibrant evening economy”, to pull shoppers on to the high street after work rather than relying on online shopping. The reality is that we still have a two-tier shopping landscape – out-of-town and the high street. Shapps would be better off bringing some focus and deeper insight to Portas’ common-sense recommendations. He should start by investing the initial £10m fund in carefully chosen town centres, and then rolling out learnings and best practice from these to others. As the saying goes, far better to do a few things well than many, badly.”
Darren Keen, MD at MARS\Y&R, said: “My prognosis is, regrettably, a gloomy one and despite Mary Portas’ valiant efforts, I believe that the high street as we knew it for most of the 20th century is doomed. That’s not so say commerce will cease to exist on our high street, but rather that different dynamics will come into play.
“Recreational retail outlets, coffee shops, restaurants and the like are providing people with a reason to frequent their high streets. They act as the primary reason to visit and traditional retailers take second place, although the latter benefit from the activity these recreational outlets generate. It’s refreshing to see that the Government acknowledges this, with its Town Teams - made up of key community figures - across the UK to ensure their high streets offer more than just retailers, pushing more entertainment venues and leisure facilities alongside housing and local public services. Ultimately though real issues such as dire or expensive parking, the lack of kick-start business rent and rate subsidies and little provision for expert service, finance and marketing advice are the things that need to be properly addressed to achieve any real success.”
Adam Stewart, MD of Rakuten’s Play.com , added: “Mary Portas’ ‘reinvigorating high streets’ report and the government response shows the need for a change in how the retail sector operates. The decline of the high street is often linked to the increase in online sales, but a critique of the report was that it overlooked e-commerce completely. It’s important to note that the e-commerce sector, rather than cannibalising the high street, can be integral to revitalising it, encouraging offline sales, as well as customer loyalty. For example, by offering a voucher via mobile to redeem at the nearest store using location based services.
“Today’s shopper is a complex beast. They engage with a wide variety of channels when coming to a decision about what to buy and where to buy it. It’s important that retailers realise the potential to link the online and offline experience. They need to be pulled together into a coherent retail strategy by merchants if they are to maximise their bottom line but how to do this effectively can be understandably daunting for businesses, not least for small-to-medium sized retailers.
“There are challenges however in linking the online and offline shopping experiences. Retailers are fusing their digital and real-world offerings with barcode scanning services such as ShopSavvy to help users find the best deal, but by allowing them to scan the barcode and search for better offers online, the application fails to reward the store whose display instigated the purchase. To avoid cannibalising the high-street we believe a new system must emerge, one that rewards the merchant for both their offline and online ecosystems.
“On this changing high street, implementation of a well thought-out multichannel platform will lead to a rise in sales, as well as new customers, increased brand loyalty and a better customer experience. The best way for high street retailers to initiate such an approach lies in partnering with a company that understands both the offline and online worlds. If these two can be unified into a cohesive sales strategy, both offline and online retailers will benefit from increased sales, and shoppers will be empowered to interact with the brand in the way that suits them best. For Yonayona, a Japanese brewery, online customers were the key to the success of the beer being stocked on supermarket shelves. After seeing the beer online, customers proactively requested their local shops to stock it leading to greater offline, as well as online sales. The situation facing retailers today is infinitely more complex than we are at times led to believe; the shopping experience is changing and retailers need to address how the high street can work alongside digital shopping channels like mobile, online and social, and profit as a result.”