From surviving to thriving

Sam Keam, co-founder at zero emission delivery operator Zedify, discusses how the pandemic will transform high streets for the better

With the loss of high-profile retailers in the past year – Debenhams and Topshop to name a few – you’d be forgiven for thinking the death of the high street is upon us. And while physical footfall has dropped in recent years, as Deloitte reports, there’s also huge potential for positive reinvention. So how will our high streets change in the next decade?

Smaller retailers typically own a lot less real estate than high street behemoths, but this new age of retail will make it possible for them to dramatically expand their footprints and grow their influence. As wealthier retailers cut back on space, small retailers will be able to move in, and even work together to create “retail hubs” in city centres, with several using the same large space to display sample stock.

As confidence grows, landlords may be willing to grant shorter leases, giving retailers anything from one week to six months to set up shop in certain areas. As a result they will be able to strengthen their influence across the UK, and attract more online customers by giving them a chance to physically experience their brand.

With months of isolation heightening people’s demand for social experiences, it’s likely we’ll see our high streets try and capitalise on this by pivoting from places of purchase to cultural hotspots. From VR and AR activations, immersive pop-ups, shows and music concerts, retailers – with the support of local councils and authorities – will push the envelope to attract people to city centres for a day of shopping and entertainment.

To compete, those that may have traditionally played it safe with the look and feel of their stores will start to experiment more with their design and layout. The rotating influx of smaller brands, meanwhile, will inject a much-needed sense of dynamism into urban areas large and small.

Retailers have long been under pressure to make their supply chains less carbon-intensive, and this evolving landscape creates the perfect conditions for making this a reality. Currently most goods ordered online are fulfilled from large distribution hubs miles out of the city, before being delivered to consumers by vans – some just a third full, thanks to increasingly short delivery window expectations.

But as retailers cut back on real estate, they will be able to use this new space to store goods more centrally – perhaps even sharing with other retailers. Zero emissions delivery fleets such as bikes and trikes can then be relied upon to deliver goods to nearby areas, cutting out a significant portion of their overall delivery emissions and minimising traffic on our roads. 

While the pandemic has brought challenges, it will also force retailers to consider new ways of survival – the result of which could be high streets that are greener, more diverse, and more exciting places.

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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