Whatever your perspective on the outcome of this year’s general election, I get the sense that many voters will have felt torn between policies, promises and people across the spectrum of political parties.
I’m sure there are those who support the Greens on renewable energy, the Liberal Democrats on the legalisation of cannabis, Labour on rail nationalisation and the Conservatives on the economy and Brexit.
As the Conservatives reflect on their result, I think they might be able to learn a thing or two from retail.
Voters, like our customers, don’t fall into simple categories any more. Their allegiances aren’t fixed; they are more fluid and are increasingly susceptible to marketing and offers.
While it was fine for the Conservatives to make “strong and stable leadership” their core brand proposition, it was Labour who won the retail war with their tailored offerings, clever sub-branding and extensive use of targeted digital marketing.
Keeping customer loyalty
In some ways, politicians and retailers share a similar challenge. If our target audiences don’t like our brand or product propositions, they can turn away from our stores.
Collectively, we must demonstrate to those feeling disenfranchised that not only do we empathise with their needs but that real change (improvements to our communities and opportunities) actually starts from the ground up.
I have recently been invited to support my local Business Improvement District (BID) in Oxted – a vibrant, friendly town in Surrey that’s close to Gatwick and about half an hour from London. It’s a grassroots project voted for and financed by a small levy on businesses in the area.
“What’s encouraging is that there are more than 200 BIDs operating all over the UK”
The objectives of the BID are to improve the town’s environment through redesign and redevelopment, increase footfall, reduce business costs, attract and support start-ups and collectively promote the town through a series of marketing initiatives.
The BID has reached out to every stakeholder in the area. Consultation, collaboration and transparent communication are at the heart of this regeneration plan, and I have to say that their ideas look great.
What’s encouraging is that there are more than 200 BIDs operating all over the UK from Newquay to Northallerton and Bedford to Ballymena.
The challenge of bricks and mortar
Arguably the single biggest issue facing our industry is how to make our bricks-and-mortar stores a success in the face of the convenience and efficiency of online retail, disproportionately high business rents and rates and the pessimism that ensues when shop vacancies are high.
“At our best, high street shopping is a shared, emotional and immersive experience that online struggles to replicate”
At our best, high street shopping is a shared, emotional and immersive experience that online struggles to replicate. Many of these BIDs acknowledge this and have ambitious plans to make it even more enjoyable.
These BIDs have seen imaginative art installations, live performance spaces, apps that help visitors discover more about their town, as well as numerous community-centred events.
What I love about all these initiatives is that it is local businesses, and retailers in particular, driving change, making our towns nicer places to live and growing their economies in the process. That gets my vote.