With CVAs becoming necessary for so many UK retailers; the number of vacant retail units is growing rapidly.
Our high streets, shopping malls and out of town complexes were built to be full of shops, restaurants and cafes. Built for a population who loved to shop in physical spaces as a recreational activity.
Over the past 15 years, the ease of online shopping has become a powerful draw. It has made physical retail feel like an unnecessary inconvenience for some customers. Few chain stores were able to provide the compelling shopping experience required to compete with e-commerce before the pandemic. With face masks compulsory, this is now even harder to implement.
So do shoe businesses need to entirely shift tack to online only retailing? I hope not, but retailers – whether they have consolidated their store portfolios or not – need to make their units work harder.
I witnessed a back to school queue at a shoe retailer which began behind a barrier outside the store, and turned into what looked like a joyless version of musical chairs inside. A member of staff would shout for customers to move to another pair of grey stools every few minutes. No fun floor decals with kid and teen-friendly graphics to mark the queuing spots. No entertainer gamifying the queue position changes. Those small additions could have made the experience much more bearable for the parents and kids.
Customers should be treated as guests, not numbers. A VIP experience doesn’t have to be expensive to implement, and can make people entering a shoe store feel valued and connected to the brand. Certain independent stores I have visited or discovered on Instagram, are excellent at building relationships with their customers. I hope that landlords give some of these independents the chance to bring life to empty units.
For the stores whose doors are open, let’s ensure each and every person who enters them feels valued.