The plight of the high street is a topic bound to draw out some strong opinions; whether you’re the type of person nostalgic for the days of the high-street forming the centre of a local community, or whether you think it’s past its sell-by date in 2022. This ever-changing beast has seen some interesting developments recently – we’ve had a clothing brand partnering with a food brand (Primark X Greggs), groceries arriving at your door at breakneck speeds (from the likes of Gorillas and Getir), and brands taking the standard trend of moving from bricks and mortar to e-commerce and turning it on its head (GymShark). This blog aims to look at these developments and assess how the high-street is changing, as well as the ways in which traditional retailers are combatting the implications of such change.
Some of the most impressive and innovative newcomers in the retail space have been at the heart of a shift away from the traditional high-street structure. On-demand grocery delivery services such as Gorillas and Getir have transformed the conventional supermarket experience; just a couple of years ago options for stocking up on groceries were limited to either running down to your local corner shop for a few bits or putting in a bulk delivery order at around a £40 minimum spend. With the dawn of these urban start-ups, however, supermarket shopping has been streamlined, as digital apps now allow you to have as little as a pint of milk be delivered to your door within 10 minutes. Naturally, the pandemic’s series of lockdowns and self-isolation mandates proved a fruitful landscape for these services to grow in popularity, and as we re-enter ‘normality’ they have heightened consumer expectations around speed, efficiency, and services which make daily tasks as painless as possible. Within one year Gorillas has expanded to more than 55 cities worldwide and has experienced double-digit monthly revenue growth and Getir (Turkish for ‘Bring’) is looking to have a valuation at around $12bn.
These new digital retailers are impacting the high-street in multiple ways; firstly they are putting pressure on traditional supermarkets/convenience stores by taking up a larger share of the market. However, there’s also a physical implication here: in order for these businesses to deliver groceries so quickly, there are now various ‘dark stores’ (essentially warehouses) cropping up across major cities. As storage units, these high-street spaces aren’t open to conventional shopping and their proliferation – as these brands buy up what was previously retail space – could lead to the public offering of the traditional high-street being reduced.
So, how to combat the likes of Getir and Gorillas moving in on the high-street? One of the main ways retailers have been tackling these new challenges is to reignite high-street shopping as an ‘experience’ rather than just an everyday activity. At the beginning of February this year, news descended about the collaboration between Primark and Greggs, and with it, fever-dream imagery of people strolling down the street dressed as vegan sausage rolls. What on paper sounds like the latest April Fools prank has turned out to be a stroke of marketing genius, proving to be excessively popular with the range selling out within a matter of hours of its launch in Newcastle. This in turn led to a bidding war on eBay where some items were sold for over 7 times their original price. The limited-time collection coincided with the launch of a 130-seater Greggs within Primark’s flagship store in Birmingham bringing the full Greggs experience to Primark shoppers.
Another active participant in this shift towards high-street shopping, as experience, is GymShark. Historically, an exclusively e-commerce-based brand, GymShark is moving into bricks and mortar with their Regent Street store opening to the public this summer. Alongside its workout clothing and equipment, the store looks to dial up the experiential element of shopping by hosting events, on-site classes, and workout studios.
These collaborations and twists on standard high-street experience are examples of innovative ways that brands are trying to enrich consumers’ shopping experience. As virtual channels are really beginning to dominate those consumer needs linked to speed, efficiency and ease, the high-street needs to evolve and become not just a place for shopping, but a space for bringing customers closer to brands and living a richer, more immersive life beyond the convenience of shopping from home.