Are these the five reasons the UK High Street is dying?

10th Mar 2011

New figures show that 1 in 7 shops on Britain’s high streets are now closed. The 14.7% figure is up from 12.0%, just one year ago. This is the average figure, with some towns, such as Margate, Leigh Park, Lee Green and Runcorn above 30%.

So, what is causing all this?

Undoubtedly, the recession is a big reason; all parts of the economy has shrunk and retail has suffered in the same way as other businesses have, as well.

But, retail in the High Street, has problems unique to the business model.

For most of retail, the customer has to visit a shop to make a purchase. And, there lies the weakness; It is easier to go online and order the same product to be delivered, without the customer leaving their home. The internet has taken a large part of the retail pie.

Weather is also a factor - rain, snow and wind always dampens demand and the weather in December 2010, highlighted this, with depressed sales for many retailers.

Rentals are also too high with landlords demanding rents in excess of what can be afforded.

One other factor has been local councils’ need and desire to impose pay metres into the high street and to raise car park tariffs, way above inflation. Previous free or cheap parking has been taken away and this has had a big impact.

And, another factor has been ‘out of town’, shopping areas, where there is free and ample parking, convenient access and a good selection of large retailers. These have taken footfall away from the high street.

Now, I have been a retailer for more than 30 years and I see many other problems with many high street businesses.

In short, many retailers do NOT KNOW how to retail and they don’t bother to find out. And, many of these retailers are guilty of FIVE BIG MISTAKES.

MISTAKE 1: The biggest mistake is that retailers do not make enough effort to talk to their customers. Very often, you don’t even get a ‘hello’, when you enter a shop.

In all my retail businesses, I and my staff have always made a real effort to talk to my customers. In that way, the customer is put at ease and then is more likely to return and buy more. Also, by talking to my customers, I can find out, from them, exactly what their needs and wants are. By doing this, I have been able to extend the range of products in my businesses, enormously, and because the new products, I introduce, have been requested by the customers, I know they will sell and they do.

The result is greater sales and profits.

MISTAKE 2: Another mistake is many retailers do not understand customer service, and they do not bother to find out. Often, the customer is made to feel they are a nuisance. This is wrong.

The customer deserves undivided attention, while they are in the shop. In my businesses, I always try to go the ‘extra mile’ and ‘over-deliver’ on customer service. Most customers appreciate this, especially, as this is something, they do not get from the large retailers in the ‘out of town’ shopping areas.

MISTAKE 3: One other big mistake is that many shops are a ‘mess’.

The products are poorly arranged and the shops do not look attractive and appear disorganised. A ‘messy’ shop puts customers off.

MISTAKE 4: The next mistake is that many retailers do not know how to make their customers visit them, and they do not bother to find out.

I have always given my customers a good reason to visit; this could be the products, I offer, or the quality of the products or the prices, to list just three ideas. If customers are to be attracted back to the high street, shops must offer better and more specialised products, and possible products that are more niche, than offered by the larger retailers in ‘out of town’ areas.

MISTAKE 5: The last mistake is that many retailers do not know how to market their businesses, and they do not bother to find out. Retail is one of the easiest businesses to market.

The High Street might be dying, but many retail and non-retail businesses will still operate, within walking distance of the High Street. These businesses could be solicitors, accountants and other retail outlets, for example.

Hand-delivered flyers to these businesses will often encourage people, working in these businesses, to visit the high street shops, especially if the retailer has products or services, that will be in demand. This form of marketing can be very successful, if done right.

I have always found that ‘word of mouth’ can be a strong force for retailers.

If your shop is very friendly, delivers a superb customer service, and looks well organised and attractive, ‘word of mouth’ will work strongly in your favour. But, be unfriendly, deliver short on customer service and have a ‘messy’ shop and ‘word of mouth’ will work strongly against you.

If you run a retail business on the High Street, don’t be guilty of the FIVE MISTAKES, I highlight, above, instead you should:

  • be friendly
  • offer superb customer service
  • make your shop look good
  • offer great ideas to visit
  • market your business well
  • make ‘word of mouth work’

By making you business different to those on-line and in the large retail parks, you will attract a multitude of appreciative customers to your business.

Robert Viney is the founder of Prestige Business Coaching. His website offers free advice and help to all business owners.

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