Well as the dust begins to settle over reduced sales figures, profit warnings, store closures, inevitable mergers etc, it certainly seems as though traditional retailing faces enormous challenges in the year ahead.
Admittedly like most tales of doom, not all news is bad news and some retailers have actually experienced a slight growth in trading over the festive period and overall sales were often up through the year up to December, though this of course factors in on-line sales.
However, virtually no one in retail has been able to totally avoid the 'perfect storm' generated by reduced consumer confidence/budgets, the fall in sterling, the growth of omni-channel shopping, the onward rise of Amazon and of course the (both positive & negative) knock on effects of those relatively new kids on the block – 'Black Monday' and 'Cyber Monday'!
A knee jerk reaction for the vast majority of UK retailers has been to actively discount during the 'golden quarter' leading to Christmas – a necessary evil for many with the loss of differentiation, on top of having to compete with the increasing breadth of on-line product choice and the more established and experienced discounters.
Retail of course comes in many forms: high street, convenience, retail parks, outlet parks, shopping centres etc but wherever you're operating and whatever you're selling - the goals remain the same – raising awareness, increasing visits, generating foot fall, encouraging customer retention, extending 'dwell time', facilitating digital interaction and developing in-store sales.
In my job role, working closely with town & city centres, BIDS, shopping centres, malls, and retail parks, the problems of everything under one roof can be exacerbated as well as shared – the destination itself often being crucial to the success or otherwise of the resident retailers.
A vibrant retail destination that has a distinct and positive persona, offering a balanced retail mix, housing an attractive range of facilities and enjoying a pro-active marketing and entrepreneurial culture has obvious advantages in weathering the storm.
We all know the saying – 'when the going gets tough...' Well the going has certainly got tough and looks likely to remain so. However in my experience and in light of my recent excursions around a good cross section of UK retail destinations, it's not just enough to get tough but absolutely essential to become more imaginative, pro-active and dynamic.
It's my job to help maximise both the 'here and now' as well as fully develop their potential – something I enjoy doing, particularly when able to demonstrate positive results. In these difficult trading conditions – every penny, every marketing opportunity, every promotional action counts and so the watchwords have to be clarity, objectivity and measurability.
I firmly believe that it's vital to encourage a holistic approach to the marketing and promotional efforts – a centre's strategic aims and marketing campaigns need to be clearly communicated to the resident retail community encouraging 'buy in' and active participation whilst customer facing promotions need to be impactive and relevant.
Can it be done?
Well an example of a perfectly formed retail centre is 'Clifton Down Shopping Centre' situated in an attractive 'village' area of Bristol and home to twenty outlets.
Well aware of the competition from the retail offering posed by 'Bristol's Cabot Centre' and the long established 'Cribbs Causeway'. The management team is making positive efforts to establish the centre as a beacon of local community retailing – under the banner of 'refreshingly local'.
The overriding aim is to become firmly fixed in the minds of the area's residents as a local destination where shopping can be combined with convenience and opportunities to engage with the community as a whole.
So here we have shops relevant to the local catchment, plus refreshed and visually attractive public areas, a clear brand identity and every effort to create a pleasant shopping environment.
But taking it far further, the centre is proactively engaging with the local community - developing and staging community facing events and initiatives such as the on going 'Refreshed Footprints – green thinking in the community' campaign that is strongly linked to resident retailers, local schools, public education and key partners that include; Bristol Zoo, GWR, YoBike, WWF and Clifton Revolution.
An isolated example of good practice? – Well every retail destination is different and individual locations and circumstances will obviously demand tailored solutions but the message that I like to draw from Clifton Down is that challenging circumstances demand challenging thinking, innovation, energy and a level of optimism – it can be done and in 2018 it should be done!