Notonthehighstreet.com chief executive Simon Belsham looks forward to a blending of online and offline retail that inspires consumers
Recent retail headlines have been dominated by the unfortunate news of BHS and Austin Reed entering administration and the ensuing read across into the future – or non-future – of the British high street.
What might seem counterintuitive, from the CEO of Notonthehighstreet.com, is that I could not be more convinced that the concept of the high street is the future of retail. I’ll need to explain, clearly.
We spent much of the last century evolving retail to achieve scale and efficiencies, creating large, multinational businesses for mass consumption.
Retail answered market demands, one of the most significant drivers being value.
But the definition of value has fundamentally changed. Combined with technology innovation and global connectivity towards greater transparency and customer engagement, we have a paradigm shift.
From the launch of the first marketplace and ecommerce to, more recently, the sharing and gig economies, we’re seeing rapid disruption of traditional business models. That’s impacting how we shop, how we travel and how we work.
While digital, social and constant connection is now innately woven into our lives, we’re also witnessing greater movements to slow the pace of life.
From slow food and farmers’ markets to mindfulness and the maker movement, popular culture has embraced knitting, baking and pottery-spinning. Customers are craving the real and the tactile in reaction to the digital world around them.
But back to the high street. Its promise over a century ago was to bring the very best of the local community – the designers, makers, butchers and bakers – together. An opportunity to generate skills, employment and, most importantly, create real connections among the community.
While an innovative shopping experience for its time, it was inherently limited by its hyper-locality and therefore inability to scale.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and, as the high street became increasingly synonymous with undifferentiated mass products, technology was empowering a new model for retail.
The launch of online behemoths enabled the most astute price comparisons, so products that prospered had to retain a real value.
Our founders recognised the opportunity to bring together the values and uniqueness of small creative businesses and consumers’ desire for products with provenance.
Suddenly, a passionate artisan was empowered to access many of the advantages of scale retail, from marketing to manufacturing and financing, to grow a viable business from anywhere in the UK.
Combined with access to more funding options through the likes of Kickstarter and Crowdfunder, ability to trial concept to product in hours (not months) through the likes of Makerversity or 3D printing, and the community of like-minded people who want to share their entrepreneurial learnings, and you begin to have an ecosystem. An ecosystem combining the traditional values of the high street and the innovation to nimbly respond to changing customer trends. An ecosystem where technology’s most profound impact on retail is only just beginning.
This weekend, Notonthehighstreet.com will celebrate its 10th anniversary with Open Door, our first shoppable immersive brand experience at one of London’s most iconic destinations, Old Spitalfields Market.
In the next couple of years, the mention of omnichannel will (thankfully) disappear.
The need for shopping to once again engage with our senses, offering additive experiences to all that online provides, could not be more relevant.
The future of retail is blended: online and offline, incredible experiences and inspiring products. High street 3.0.
- Simon Belsham is chief executive of Notonthehighstreet.com
- Notonthehightreet’s Open Door takes place at Old Spitalfields Market, Commercial St, London E1: Friday May 6,12pm - 7pm; Saturday May 7 10am - 6pm; Sunday 8 May: 10am - 5pm