As we move through the final few months of the year – known in retail-focused sectors as the Golden Quarter – there is an opportunity for consumers to spend more time in their local communities and high streets looking for gifts and something a little different for loved ones ahead of the holiday season (apologies if it feels too early to be talking about this, but for many retailers this period is very important!).
Bolstered by events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers traditionally see sales spike in the build-up to the holiday period. For some, it is make or break, with a significant proportion of annual takings coming in this season.
What this period also means for the UK’s high streets is an increased volume of interaction with consumers, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge.
The high-street as a meaningful destination
Simply put, more needs to be done to make the high street an attractive destination for people, so our towns and cities thrive. And that’s exactly what it can and should be – a destination rather than just a location. To use a London-based example, the Oxford Street revamp that was given the go-ahead last month may well set the standard for the future of our high street, reflecting customer demands of the post-covid era. It aims to improve the overall ‘appearance and usability’ of the street by increasing space for visitors. That means wider pavements, for pedestrian footfall and better crossings and lighting, to ensure people feel safe and at ease walking around.
It also means other investments in the built environment, from better public and personal transport connections (like trains, trams, and cycling) to more trees being planted on the promenade to make the high street liveable and beautiful. This is something which can and should be replicated across the country.
Businesses and local government need to be genuinely working together, cross-sector, to improve the experiences that customers receive on the high street. I know over the years there has been much discussion about this topic and there have been some great developments, but I do think we can still challenge ourselves to take an even wider view of the consumer journey – thinking more about why customers would want to spend their time and money there, as well as all the touchpoints they interact with.
A wide range of sectors are involved, or should be involved, in the high street experience, from hospitality to banking, retail, and the housing sector. This may take new and interesting forms – from pop-ups and markets to hub banking spots, a range of housing opportunities, and the greater use of space and traditional buildings such as libraries, theatres, and town halls. I also appreciate that rates, parking costs, accessibility and associated costs also need to be addressed.
However, ultimately consumers vote with their feet. If the experience isn’t different, memorable enjoyable and accessible, then they are more likely not to come back, and turn to other avenues such as online for their shopping needs.
Customer excellence from online to the high-street
With the accelerated onset of online shopping, the high street is undergoing a reinvention before our eyes. I firmly believe the high street does have a future – and can co-exist with online shopping. Mainly because we are using both mediums for different things, and the differentiation needs to come through unique experiences. Utilising all our senses is going to be an important part of this.
The future lies in the high street being a destination, centred around the whole customer experience – not just one sector – and an experience rather than a set of transactions. Our latest UK Customer Service Index data clearly shows the importance of the community, support, outreach, and advice – all that can be provided by the local high street.
Customers are increasingly more discerning and value-driven, as shown in our UKCSI. So, it is more important than ever that organisations invest in excellent customer service – from the web browser to the high-street – to stand out from the crowd this hectic holiday season and win long-term loyalty and trust.
We know that businesses are under increasing pressure to manage costs, and certainly a blended approach to the service experience will be required – but I would encourage all to think hard about how we serve a diverse range of customers through a diverse range of channels, partnerships, and sectors. Personalisation and looking at the intersection of multiple customer journeys across a whole range of industries is going to be key to creating a bit of Christmas magic!