It’s not the Internet that’s killing the high street

8 September, 2016

My big retail moment this summer was stumbling across Grand Frais, a French supermarket chain.

Grand Frais is nothing to look at from the outside. In fact, you wouldn’t know it was a foodie emporium but inside feels like a traditional French covered market. A butcher, baker, cheese and fishmonger ply their produce at prices no more expensive than Leclerc or one of the other big supermarkets.

Grand Frais hasn’t come to the UK but Brexit aside, it could. We are hungry for new shopping experiences and retailers are investing millions of pounds in a desperate bid to find ways of tempting us in to bricks-and-mortar shops.

Yet, if we’re to believe the headlines, so far it isn’t working.

By 2025, up to 74,000 shops of the 270,000 trading in the UK today will close, according to a survey earlier this year by the British Retail Consortium.

At one end are the big, old high street giants like British Home Stores who closed all 164 stores this summer with the loss of 11,000 jobs. At the other end, are the one–off shops from newsagents to shoe shops hit by a combination of factors from business rates to the Internet.

Even retail giants like M&S cannot seem to dig themselves out of the hole. Sales of clothes and homeware continue to plummet and last week it announced it was cutting more than 500 jobs from its London headquarters in order to become “ a simpler and more effective organisation”.

Clearly, the days of ‘if you build it, they will come’ are over yet there are still plenty of retailers succeeding with physical stores by creating new shopping destinations based around experiences.

This is the subject of archiboo’s next event on September 22nd when four speakers will give their perspective on the future of bricks-and-mortar shops.

The first speaker, Craig White needs no convincing about the importance of the physical store. As one of the people charged with creating a shopping destination at King’s Cross he believes that a successful retail strategy has to have a strong reason for people to return. The way to do this, says White, is not simply via the shops themselves but mixing retail in with restaurants, galleries, and music venues to create a destination.

Jamie Fobert is an architect who has worked for some of the mort famous retail brands including Givenchy, Versace and Selfridges in London.

His most recent project is the retail concept for Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, opening this month as a department store after a 6-year long renovation and redesign by Rem Koolhaas/OMA.

Department stores are some of the most challenged retail spaces but those that thrive do so because, apart from the convenience of having many brands under one roof, they are ‘curated’ to become places where you do more than shop.

Luxury brands have led the field in finding innovative ways to engage people from using world-famous architects to design their stores to adding restaurants and art galleries to the retail space.

Rachel Arthur, a journalist who writes about fashion and technology, will explain why luxury brands, like Chanel and Prada, are having to  turn their attention  to e-commerce after a long period of growth sustained by physical stores, predominantly in China and the Far East.

The final speaker is Ross Bailey, who launched Appear Here in 2013.  His aim is to make renting commercial property as easy as booking a room on Airbnb.

Appear Here also taps into e-commerce companies wanting a physical presence because it’s a way for them to better market their wares and forge closer customer relations. At the same time, traditional retailers, like Top Shop, recognise that temporary or “pop-up” space gives them a freedom to experiment that they don’t have in existing stores.

It’s a complicated, fascinating story but it’s not the Internet that’s killing the high street- it’s better shops.

Is there a future for physical shops?, September 22nd 6pm-7.30pm