You don’t need me to tell you that the outlook for 2018 remains pretty grim with many retailers struggling to keep their heads above water.
The twin forces of Brexit and inflation are combining to create uncertainty and a loss of consumer confidence.
A look at the GfK UK consumer confidence index is revealing; stubbornly negative for the past 12 months and despite a slight blip in January 2018, there appears no sign of lasting recovery.
In the face of this however, our expectations as consumers continue to grow, fuelled by a seemingly insatiable thirst for immediate gratification and ‘anything anywhere’.
Next day delivery, same day delivery, jeans for a tenner, strawberries in January, click-and-collect, deliver to me… the list goes on.
But are we sleepwalking into the abyss? Are our expectations of retailers getting out of hand? Should we be educated to expect less so that our favourite brands can at least make a decent margin and continue to stay in business?
The evidence points to the contrary.
For example, according to a study conducted by American Express and Forrester, Gen Z (those born post-1995) are more than twice as likely than millennials to drop a brand for poor features or responsiveness on social media.
This increasing demand being placed on retailers by all demographics is stretching their capability to the point of breaking.
Talk of a retail apocalypse is great for grabbing the headlines, however the shift in attitudes and behaviour has significant implications not just for retail but for society as a whole. Here’s why.
Up and down the country, whichever town or city you care to think of, the centre of that community is the high street. It is a meeting place, a social centre – somewhere to not only to shop, but to dine out, meet people, be entertained.
The high street is the heartbeat of every community up and down the country. But are we systematically destroying it with our unrealistic expectations?
There seems no end in sight. The genie is out of the bottle and it would be a brave person who tried to put it back.
It’s become a question of who blinks first and of course no one is about to do that – literally prepared to go out of business rather than break ranks, desperately trying to keep up with the latest service and delivery innovations.
Elevating the discussion
Rather than headline grabbing, the discussion must be elevated for it involves many bodies not directly in the retail industry; the government, councils, planners, etc, all that have a part to play.
There have been attempts of course to put this on the agenda, most notably the Mary Portas ‘save the high street’ campaign and the Grimsey Review, a report into what can be done to reinvigorate Britain’s town centres. But a combination of short sightedness, political agendas and apathy on the part of the stakeholders involved stymied both.
In the case of the former, the 12 towns featured have between them lost nearly a net 1,000 shops in the period since 2012.
This decline is echoed by data from Retail Futures, which reported that in the six years between 2012 and 2018 some 22 per cent of shops will have closed.
Who knows where we are heading but one thing is for sure — if we are to remain a nation of shopkeepers, the issue cannot be ignored.
As they say, be careful what you wish for.