Mary Portas released 28 recommendations for the Government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to rejuvenate the high street this week.
The purpose of the Portas review was to identify what the Government, local authorities, businesses and others can do together to promote the development of new models of prosperous and diverse high streets.
For her summary of recommendations see the list at the bottom of the page below:
Whilst we recognise that hard and cold commercials are without doubt preventing fledgling businesses from starting and flourishing on our local high streets, what is most interesting, is Portas’s focus on social engagement, community development and the ‘Neighbourhood plan’.
High streets originally emerged from an essential need to visit the best vendors in your village or town to snap up fresh, organically grown vegetables (in the days when organic was not trendy, but meant vegetables went ‘off’ very quickly), hand kneaded bread from the village Baker and meat to feed the family. Knowing who supplied your food and who was the best vendor in your town was an essential part of the commercial transaction and it was implicitly understood by Mums that being friendly and building a relationship with your vendor could ensure you would get the best cuts of meat, your granary loaf would be saved for you from the baying masses on Saturday morning and you might even benefit from home deliveries. Out of Britain’s large cities, this system still exists in small pockets of the country, but to many city dwellers, this kind of retail transaction is unheard of in modern high streets.
The difference between this type of transaction with a local high street vendor and retail engagement with mass market retailers in large city shopping centres or out of town retail parks is based in human nature.
Firstly, commercial transactions are very much between individual PEOPLE as opposed to a person and a big BRAND or RETAILER. Here lies the key. Where there is a transaction between two people, a personal engagement and relationship with the person who runs the store you are purchasing from will develop. You are then likely to recommend said vendors to your neighbours, friends and local family, who will then undoubtedly gather and connect on the high street when shopping. This builds community engagement and support, drives more footfall and fosters competition between like vendors in the area.
This engagement simply does not exist in a mass supermarket, or in out of town retail, primarily due to the scale and size and the sheer volume of consumers. You are highly unlikely to ever see the same people or shop assistants in the Supermarket you visit and frankly no one really cares if they do in any case, because what is attracting consumers to mass retailers and out of town shopping centres, are the LOW PRICES and convenience. But what is missing from these transactions are ‘the human factor’. And it is the human factor that fosters community life and engagement and builds diversity, interest and unique brands and business for our High Street. Out of town shopping centres such as Westfield differentiate themselves from the high street by creating a shopping ‘experience’ that is all about entertainment, interaction and fun. I recently attended a Harpers Bazzaar Beauty event in Westfield, London, that featured a beauty consultation with the Magazine’s Beauty Editor, a fashion show, fantastic bands and personal styling advice, for example. Would this ever happen on a high street? Sadly very rarely. In fact, if you were to visit any two high streets across the country right now, you would probably find rows of the same chain stores and shops, all missing that critical ‘ human factor’, entertainment or theatre. Is it any wonder customers are deserting our unimaginative, cloned high streets?
Vivid Brand is lucky to reside next to a fantastic street called Lambs Conduit Street in London. Here you will find a multitude of independent boutiques, gift stores, hand made crafts, florists, cafes and galleries. Whilst the street is no more than 400 metres long, one could quite easily spend an entire afternoon browsing it’s wares, talking to the shop owners and lounging in it’s cafes, or attending on of it’s exclusive events. Lambs Conduit Street has got right, what so many high streets have got wrong. If you would like to see how how a high street could and should look, come and visit and pop in to say hi to us afterwards.
Visit Lambs Conduit Street
Shoppers, or Human Beings, like human interaction and engagement. If you make someone happy, they will ‘like’ you and will want to talk to you again and visit your store. Mass market Retailers and brands are now slowly evolving and re-establishing the way they engage with their customers using new technology. Whilst you can still tell friends you ‘Like’ X Brand, you can now also post it to your Facebook status and Twitter feeds, or post photos of desired items for comments and discussion. Or if you are areal fan, you can even create a blog to share your love. Biotherm, a skin brand tapped into the human factor by using Twitter to look for people complaining of being ‘tired’ and then offered them free product samples for their new anti fatigue skin range. A great idea, but the brand could have used the technology to suggest they visit a Biotherm pop up store to drive footfall onto the high street. But what is their incentive to do this currently? (queue Mary’s very pertinent points about business rates and utilising empty retail space).
The report details how retail spending on the high street is falling massively in favour of shopping centres and out of town stores and central to this decline is to the impact that increasing spend online and via mobiles is having upon the high street. Consumers have massively changed their shopping behaviours and patterns in the last 5 years and no longer see bricks and mortar Retailers and Websites as two different things. They see them as one. Consumers now expect to be able to check a price of a product in store on their mobile phone and then order online and perhaps collect in store when it is convenient, or even have the goods delivered to their work. Marks & Spencers perfectly illustrated this when in the first week of the release of their mobile website being launched, a purchase for a sofa worth £4k was made. Yes, that consumer could have made the purchase on the high street, but it was so much more convenient to do this in their lunch hour on their phone.
Technology, social networking, online retail and the penetration of mobiles into the core of the way humans interact and engage with each other, products and brands, is shaping our retails needs, wants and preferences. Brands, retailers and indeed local councils need to harness this to identify strategies for attracting and engaging with their customers in a more meaningful, useful way that looks at REAL human interaction and wider social needs across the evolving Shopper Journey.
Mary Portas’s 28 Recommendations:
1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”
3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District
4. Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business
5. Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
6. Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape
12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own
14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework.
15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota
16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers
17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report
18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses
19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant
20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them
21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders”
23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords
24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans
25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans
26. Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system
27. Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”
28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept
For the full report from Mary Portas, go here.