August 10, 2018

Can the high street be saved?

In the news recently is the attempt by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley to save the failing House of Fraser. The chain went into administration after failing to secure the finance needed for a previous rescue plan with Chinese firm C.banner.

Ashley has promised to keep as many stores open as possible, and has announced plans to turn House of Fraser into “the Harrods of the High Street”.

Sports Direct is known for operating at the discount end of the market, not luxury goods. Is this the right strategy to save the 59 stores and 16,000 jobs which are in danger?

What is it about the luxury shopping experience which makes anyone think it will work for House of Fraser? Can it work? Or is this just another nail in the coffin for bricks and mortar shopping?

I’ve got mixed opinions about the High Street, and unfortunately in general it’s that the shopping experience for the customer in the main is actually bullshit! It’s no wonder footfalls are down – stores just don’t seem to have been able to adapt to the new world, where everyone wants the convenience of buying on the internet.

The only thing which sets the high street retail experience apart from internet shopping is the level of service it could offer – but almost no-one does. Stores are a jumbled mess, with disinterested staff, no help available, often the right size is out of stock, or more expensive than the same product online. It’s no wonder people sit at home and choose to click and have it delivered.

Shops are quick to lay the blame for this elsewhere, blaming councils and landlords for lack of investment, or high rates. I’m sure this IS a contributing factor, but the bottom line is that this is the reality you’re working with.

As a business, you have to adapt to survive. The world IS changing. It’s no good moaning about it, or expecting the government to treat the high street as a charity case. If the rates are too high – don’t open the new store!

Mike Ashley has plans to bring elements of high-end service back into mass retail to save House of Fraser. Personally, the stores I shop at are the ones that get this right. I’ve been a loyal customer of an independent retailer for most of my clothes for years now. The reason I keep going back is because of the service they offer. They CARE about treating their customers well. There’s nothing particularly different about their products or price, and I could just as easily get the same stuff online. But it’s their customer service which has seen them survive on the high street for thirty years when lots of others have failed.

Ashley has announced plans to introduce a more personalised shopping experience for the future of House of Fraser – like a concierge click and collect service, along with introducing more luxury brands.

Whatever they try to turn it around, it’s clear House of Fraser has a big task ahead to get people excited to go shopping again. But business is business, not a charity. If you want to adapt, change and keep up, you have to put your money where your mouth is and invest in the future. Let’s hope they can get it right.

If you want to talk to me about finding finance so your business can keep up, get in touch!

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