Marketing High Street

Seven Steps to a More Prosperous High Street

By James Willougby

March 7, 2012 | 6 min read

The High Street is in serious need of new life being breathed into it - take a walk down most High Streets across the UK and there will be empty outlets and closing down sales aplenty. The Government recently attempted to address this by consulting retail Queen Mary Portas with drawing up some guidelines to turn these issues around - to a mixed response. James Willoughby, director of London marketing agency Initials Marketing offers his own input as to what he believes must be done.

Interesting research out this week shows that although consumers in the UK are utilising an increasingly diverse range of channels on the path to purchase, they ascribe very different qualities to bricks and mortar stores and digital media.

According to findings from Shoppercentric’s poll of a representative sample of 1,001 people online, some 87% of respondents typically visited physical stores during the "purchase journey". And despite the acknowledged rise in the use of social media, apps and mobiles as part of the shopping experience, bricks and mortar stores are the most trusted channel when it comes to gaining expert advice (they scored 68% in the trust stakes, beating brand websites on 52%).

The results highlight quite emphatically just how complex shopper expectations have become. Not only do today’s shoppers expect a seamless transition between all retail channels, but they also increasingly expect a personalised shopping experience, complete with the reassurance of human interaction.

While that’s no small order, the opportunity this insight represents for retailers, as well as marketers, is immense. For brands willing to go the extra mile, we’ve identified seven key trends that can help acquire, engage with and retain those consumers, even in a time of economic turmoil.


Look at Sainsbury’s Live Well for Less campaign, which helped it post some pretty impressive results this Christmas. Brand matching (with price differences matched by text or data credit vouchers) attracts cash-strapped consumers while keeping value locked in.

But value also has to be transparent – because anyone can compare prices online – and there also is a clear market for added value propositions like VIP offers and freebies. Not every customer will compromise on price, particularly for important, emotion-driven purchases, but value is a concept that appeals across the board.


Mary Portas, the UK’s service guru, rightly believes that any business’s most important assets are its staff. In an increasingly commoditised product marketplace, they can set you apart from the competition.

Quality advice is what consumers are after, especially during cash-strapped times – just look at the success of John Lewis. That means the importance of staff training and recruitment is paramount. Brands need to develop their employees so that they become renowned for intelligent, friendly, soft selling, helpful and tailored advice; and they can then build whole campaigns around it.

Clear navigation

High street brands have long struggled with the right combination of simplicity and education. Mobile phone providers, for example, have complex technical propositions and stores that can be intimidating to the less tech-savvy audiences. Everything from product copy to in-store navigation has a role to play: it can help pull customers in or drive them away.

Reasons to visit

Consumers are beginning to expect more from their shopping experience than just a new product in the basket. ‘Retailtainment’ is a trend on the increase, particularly in flagship stores, with music and leisure combining with pure shopping to form a broader and more immersive experience. For example, brands like the Apple Store and Anthropologie are almost like art studios or creative showrooms.

Even smaller stores with more limited budgets can offer more than just shopping: free Wi-Fi or after-sales care stations can turn a simple trip to the shops into a more holistic experience.

External communication

A lot of retail brands know that they have only eight seconds to attract the eye of a passing shopper. That means everything from bold window designs to impactful posters can help to drive home a message and lure those potential customers inside.

But at the same time, windows have to be clutter-free or else it will put people off; they may be free advertising space, but brands abuse them at their peril.

A multi-platform approach

Evidence shows that retailers with strong online sales channels are generally outperforming their pure-play rivals. And according to a consumer survey by ATG, 78 percent of consumers have used two or more retailing channels to make their purchase, with 30 percent using three.

Today’s consumers like to choose how they buy and how they can take delivery of their products. They also trust opinions and reviews posted online by fellow shoppers and these can have a huge effect on whether people choose to visit a particular store or website.

Brands can offer ‘click and collect’ systems that allow shoppers to research online and buy in-store, or offer consumers the chance to corroborate or challenge online reviews. As with most elements of the digital space, the worst thing to do is nothing.

Support your local business community

Points 16 and 17 of The Portas Review recommend that large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers. This helps brands build rapport, reach additional local consumers and develop both awareness and employee engagement.

It’s not rocket science to accommodate these trends in a marketing plan, but many brands are still not doing so. That means others are well placed to grow market share at their competitors’ expense – and that has to be good news in a still-shaky economy.

Images provided by Shutterstock

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