A short stroll along Oxford Street these days doesn’t necessarilly fill retail fans with confidence. A phalanx of American candy stores, souvenir shops of questionable quality and ‘to let’ signs have blossomed after the pandemic, and House of Fraser last week became the latest bricks and mortar flagship to announce it would be closing its doors.
All is not however lost. While the pandemic spurred an online-shopping boom, accelerating an already growing trend, household names such as Superdry and Mango have committed to London’s shopping district and footfall is creeping back up. Christmas crowds have already descended.
Even furniture giant Ikea has confirmed it would take over the now-closed Topshop store on the street.
There is still an appetite for physical retail across the country too. UK footfall across all retail destinations is anticipated to rise 7.9 per cent in the week leading up to Black Friday compared to the previous week, according to retail experts Springboard.
The secret to retail’s future could be not to retail at all – but experience.
Russ Mould, AJ Bell investment director, said: “Shopping online is great if you know precisely what you are looking for – it provides convenience, saves time and often offers value, too. But many shoppers, especially those looking for gifts, will find that their best purchases occur by chance when they are browsing, something which can be tedious and time-consuming online.”
“Physical shops therefore can continue to hold the affections of customers by offering a great customer experience, excellent service, and well-curated or even exclusive products and product ranges. There are few greater pleasures for a shopper to think they are getting something that is hard, or impossible, to find elsewhere. “
Alex Loizou, co-founder and CEO of Trouva, a website which offers shoppers items from offline independent boutiques, echoed Mould’s thoughts.
“I don’t think [high street shopping] necessarily is dying, it’s changing,” he told CityA.M. “Offline becomes more about experience and something different. Online is driven by transactional behaviour.”
Trouva has sought to bring the “inspiration and journey of experience” to its e-commerce site. “What you experience in the offline world is a curation that is more horizontal than vertical – aesthetics, rather than categories. People get inspired by that, as human beings.”
The Apple and Nike stores are weekend destinations for many, Loizua explained. “People will go into those destination spaces to just experience it and look at physical objects up close, even if people don’t buy them there.”
Adidas’ new store off Carnaby Street is another example. The store, says the German sportswear and fashion brand, “fuses culture, community and commerce.”
The store features a record store and an Adidas-sneaker themed pool table. Sneakerheads can look at displays of previous iterations of the brand’s flagship products. You can’t get that online, after all.
Not all retail stalwarts have succeeded at enticing customers though. “Big department stores, with racks of clothing, with no type of curation, those are not interesting enough for people,” Loizou added.
This then explains why Oxford Street’s new Superdry store features an exclusive vintage Nike store installation, a Gin & Juice bar, and a space for “influencer gatherings”.
“I’m a firm believer that physical stores will play a vital role in the future of retail, and as a proud British brand, it’s important we have the best possible presence for Superdry in London, for our customers, our wholesale partners, and the influencer community,” Superdry CEO, Julian Dunkerton, said.
The high street may not be dead, but it’s certainly changing.