Maybe – the future of the high street?

Maybe – the future of the high street?

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We welcome our guest contributor, Polly Barnfield OBE of Maybe* who shares with us her insights about what needs to happen next to bring all retail outlets together for the benefit of the consumer

Online shopping is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. Some of us love the idea of browsing through a variety of online platforms to find the product we’re looking for, whilst others simply can’t stand the idea of deciding on an item from a short product description and some flattering photographs.

There is no denying that being able to shop at any time of day from the comfort of your own home is extremely convenient, but there is still also something appealing about hitting the high street and taking part in some good old fashioned shopping.

A recent study, commissioned by us at Maybe* has found that 41% of shoppers do in fact head to the high street to look for ideas, reinforcing the fact that the high street is an extremely valid part of the consumer shopping experience.

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The genuine high street experience simply can’t be replicated online. When walking into a store your senses are immediately heightened; senses that aren’t triggered by online browsing. You can see products first hand, and not just look at, but actually see and feel what they are like. You can hear a product; the sounds it makes. You can touch them, appreciating how a certain fabric will feel against the skin, genuinely grasping quality. In some cases you can taste and even smell.

Shopping in store also allows you to try before you buy, therefore ensuring the item is right for you before parting with any money.

There are many positives to shopping in store, yet recent research from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard shows that over 10% of shops on the high street now lie empty. Yet, despite this, footfall across the country’s high streets is actually rising. What does this suggest? Well, it indicates that shoppers are heading in store to browse but aren’t necessarily choosing to buy there.

Consumers are increasingly likely to turn to online shopping after browsing the high street as it gives them the flexibility to trawl the web and find the item they want at the best price. There’s also far more to see – you can visit more online shops in a single day than you can on foot. Further research demonstrates that 39% of consumers get their ideas from shopping websites thanks to the huge variety on offer.

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Evidently there is constant competition between online and offline shopping outlets. But this needn’t be the case. The truth is the two should go hand in hand. Maybe*’s research has demonstrated that over 74% of high street retailers have no active social media presence within their regional stores. When you consider the amount of online shopping activity, both browsing and buying, retailers are certainly missing a trick here. This serves to isolate the high street from the consumer, separating the online and offline shopping experience, when retailers should be doing all they can to marry the two together.

Polly believes Maybe* offers a solution to this. It’s a digital platform, available on both the app store and online, that helps consumers decide what to buy. It combines inspiration, peer consultation and geolocation to help encourage shoppers to make a decision, whilst also steering them towards the high street, thus benefiting retailers. It essentially encourages shoppers and retailers to engage with one another, which ultimately results in a better customer experience.

Another incentive that is connecting the retail experience both online and offline is a local high street initiative that we’re part of. GFirst LEP, a Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership, Gloucester City Council, Cheltenham Borough Council, Stroud County Council and the government have combined together for a pilot project called The Great Gloucestershire High Street. Maybe* is delivering the ’What do you think?’ (#WDYT) campaign as a key element in this pilot. This is a social media driven campaign that actively encourages retailers and shoppers towards a dialogue through social media. We call this ‘conversational commerce’.

Led by the hashtag #WDYT, it encourages shoppers to put shopping decisions to social media, engaging with both the retailer and other social media. At present, users of the hashtag are put into a weekly prize draw, which could see them winning items they have their eye on, shopping vouchers or other potential prizes.

The #WDYT campaign is something we hope to see rolled out at national level over the next year or two, and we hope it’s the kind of initiative that can really set the standard, encouraging greater interaction. The high street is evolving, as is a consumer’s view of what the high street is. Retailers need to do the same.

Ultimately, we want to see online and offline shopping working closer together in order to improve the customer experience, and improve trade for the retailer.

At the end of the day as a shopper I only see one activity – it’s all just shopping, regardless of the device or channel.

About:

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Polly Barnfield OBE is founder and CEO of Maybe*. She previously created the Multi Award winning Everyclick and Give as you Live platforms for the Charity sector.

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