'In Conversation with Huw Thomas'
Our ‘In conversation with Huw Thomas’ series is written by blogger Bethan Williams, alongside PMC. Based on conversations with our Managing Director, Huw Thomas. Bethan is an anthropology graduate turned dance teacher turned blogger and writer. This series takes snippets of the conversations between Huw and Bethan, where their interests and areas of knowledge overlap, and turn them into pieces which are relevant to retail and business in general.
In my previous ‘In Conversation’ piece I mused on what High Streets might look like, enlivened to suit the needs of the social media generation; the brand tribes of the 21st Century. I think this understanding of town centres as social, sensory, experiential hubs ties in rather nicely with the work companies like PMC are doing to bring the personalised feel of online shopping into the world of bricks and mortar stores.
I’ve spoken before, following my conversations with Huw, about the problem of bridging the divide between the very personalised nature of internet shopping vs. the impersonal service often found in physical shops. As well as the positives and negatives of choice, often overwhelming amounts of it, online and the more restricted selection found on shop floors. Somewhere in this concoction of needs and problems is a sweet spot for the British High Street; shopping as a personalised, sensory experience. One devoid of the frustrations of too much choice, not enough time and lack of assistance or availability. If the industry can find this spot, the answer to the question do we still need the High Street might just be a resounding yes.
The development of technology like PMC’s Store Enabler, alongside the transition in many high-end shops toward a more personalised style of service, could well be the bridge that our High Streets need to bring themselves into the 21st Century.
With more and more town centre spaces being taken up by experience rather than goods providers - bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas etc - which by their nature are more interactive and personal, stores can maintain competitiveness by joining what I’m going to call the experience revolution. They can become a leisure activity! They can make people happier, make their lives more comfortable and provide social spaces for communities.
This attitude is very intuitive to places already offering ‘experiences’ but it’s a much more difficult task for retailers to provide something unique for customers. I’m immediately drawn to places like Camden High Street for inspiration here. As you walk down the street, music booms from shop doors out onto the street and there’s DJ’s and flashing lights inside. Book stores include coffee shops and mannequins and models adorn the streets and shop fronts, drawing you into a lifestyle which can be achieved by buying what the shop sells.
Similarly, Northampton’s St. Giles Street, winner of the 2015 High Street of the Year award boasts a magical coffee shop complete with life-size Hagrid and popping candy cakes. Specialised food retailers are more common. Wholefoods, paleo and vegan outlets for example, provide for a lifestyle which encompasses far more than simply finding food to survive. These lifestyles are in turn promoted and shared by thousands on online forums and social media. Retailers are beginning to create experiences in their stores and I expect we’ll see a lot more of this over the next few years.
I wonder what contributions mobile POS systems, such as Store Enabler, could make to this phenomenon? I think the coming together of personalised shopping with the 21st Century experience revolution is an incredibly exciting leap forward for Britain’s High Streets and I look forward to seeing how it develops!