Times are tough on the high street – there’s no denying that. Over the past five years one in twelve high street shops have closed their doors for good, whilst some of the biggest chains have cut loose hundreds of branches and thousands of jobs.
The reasons for this are multiple, yet difficult to pinpoint; the rise in online shopping, rising inflation, swelling household debt, and the mass closure of cashpoints have all been attributed to the decline of the high street.
However, there is nothing inevitable about this decline. Small and large high street businesses across the UK are thriving while others are failing. If your business is struggling, this is what you can do to return to profitability.
1. Add Some Kerb Appeal
How your business looks on the outside is absolutely crucial to getting people inside. Shoppers and restaurant-goers are much more likely to stick their head into an unfamiliar business if the exterior looks hip or enticing.
A tatty, run-down looking shop isn’t going to attract any footfall. Read up on the latest store design trends and see what you can make work for your business. Transparency is highly effective, so consider getting large plate glass windows that allow passers-by to see into your business. Create a space that is bold, eye-catching, and inviting.
2. Update Your Infrastructure
One of the keys reasons that people are turning away from the high street is that many retailers simply haven’t adapted to 21st-century consumption habits.
The most important thing is payment infrastructure; you’ll need to offer contactless and smartphone payment options as a bare minimum and you should seriously consider adopting platforms such as Alipay or PayPal.
Touch-screen ordering systems and digital displays will also help encourage sales. Just do what you can to bring your bricks-and-mortar business into the digital age.
3. Give Out Some Freebies
You don’t need to go too crazy with this one, but it is undeniably one of the most effective ways to attract loyal customers. Rather than simply giving away your stock, encourage loyalty by offering free services or credit in exchange for membership.
Online betting platforms in the UK have been trailblazers in this regard, with popular sites offering hundreds of pounds worth of free bets and services in exchange for a deposit and membership sign up. It has proven hugely successful at attracting and retaining customers and it’s a model that can be applied to all kinds of businesses.
4. Diversify Your Offerings
You can’t appeal to everyone all of the time, but you can certainly expand your appeal by diversifying what you offer. If you’re a high street cafe, you can double up as a book shop by offering customers the chance to read and purchase books alongside their latte.
If you’re a clothes retailer, consider natural tie-ins such as a makeup counter or a section selling style magazines. Your additional offerings don’t even have to be thematically linked; offering some unexpected goods and services is a good way to attract attention and garner a reputation as a unique and unconventional business. It’s a great idea to notify your customers about new offers through an SMS marketing platform, but remember that the less you offer your customers, the more limited your business will be.
5. Offer an Experience
If the only thing your business is offering customers is the opportunity to purchase items, then you’re not doing anything to convince them that shopping online isn’t the better option.
Consumers, especially millennial ones, are much more drawn to the so-called “experience economy” in 2019, meaning that they are much more inclined to pay for a physical experience that’s worth remembering (and sharing on social media).
Do what you can to make your space look more Instagram friendly, crank your customer service up to 11, and most importantly, turn your place of business into somewhere experiences happen. The best way to do this is by hosting themed events, such as wine tasting, creative workshops, or social events.
6. Encourage Loyalty
This has already been touched upon but bears repeating. The key to running a viable high street business in 2019 is by offering something that will encourage people to keep coming back.
In its simplest form, this includes promotional offers such as discount cards, where customers can get something for free once they’ve visited your business and made a purchase enough times. Turn your customers into a community of people who identify with what you’re selling and are proud to shop with you.
7. Expand Online
Digitising your business should not be seen as an admission of defeat in the era of online shopping. Rather, it should be a convenient extension of your land-based business. People should be drawn to your business for the experience of shopping there but should be able to purchase their favourite items online when it is inconvenient for them to travel into town.
Simply offering your most popular items on your own dedicated online store can make a significant difference for your sales and seriously boost your profit margins. Ideally, you’ll want to build and own your very own dedicated website, one which strongly resembles the brand identity of your physical store.
If this isn’t feasible for you, consider reaching out to e-commerce platforms such as ASOS or Etsy to see if they can stock certain items on your behalf.
The high street may be going through a period of unprecedented struggle right now, but that doesn’t mean your business has to suffer. External forces may affect the market in negative ways, but survival all depends on how you choose to adapt.