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Taking a leaf out of marketing’s book could save the high street

Alex gives his take on recent attempts to save the high street.

A new report has been published that shows just how hard the government is fighting to save the British high street. The High Street Report includes recommendations from a panel of high street experts which will hopefully end the days of vacant shops and bring back full, vibrant and busy town centres. Retailer Sir John Timpson chaired the panel, and has urged the £675m already announced in the Budget for High Street improvements to be allocated to individual local councils, giving them freedom to turn their town centres into what locals want.

Macclesfield, the home of Skout HQ, is already pressing ahead when it comes to saving its high street, after suffering one shop closure after another in recent years. After months of rumours, plans to turn an old cinema into a trendy food and drink hall were announced. Market Operations is the company behind Altrincham Market, and it turned a dying high street into a community hub, and as a result the town is enjoying greater prosperity. Seeing the same potential in Macclesfield, Market Operations decided to replicate a similar format in the Cheshire town.

So, why have food and drink halls become the new saviour for the high street? With one in every five pounds spent with UK retailers now being online, the town centre is simply becoming less of a shopping destination. That means that the high street needs to think of a different purpose to serve people. Offering a quirky place to try artisan food and drink could be what draws in crowds, and given the success of Christmas markets, the demand is certainly there.

Experiential marketing has been a tactic to bring in customers for many years, and that’s the approach that some high streets are now taking to boost business. Take one of our former clients Igloo Vision, which provides businesses with immersive 360° projection environments. Topman was a customer of theirs, and used Igloo’s VR in one of its stores to transport customers to a virtual summer boat party. Buying clothes wasn’t the only reason to visit the store, so the retailer raised brand awareness and possibly gained custom from shoppers that wouldn’t have otherwise visited the store. By the same token, people have a reason to visit the high street if it offers them an experience: a food and drink hall, in Altrincham and Macclesfield’s case. I wonder what other facilities town centres will offer in years to come?

Brands that have achieved success through experiential marketing have shown that the future of the high street is looking up if it takes that approach. Whatever happens, we look forward to visiting the Macclesfield food hall in our lunch breaks…

Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.

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