Am I Bothered? Why Customers Will Drive the High Street Revival

Catherine Tate’s return to our screens started me thinking. ‘Am I bovvered’ was one of her characters’ famed catch phrases – made renowned by the then PM, Tony Blair, using it in the 2007 Comic Relief show.

All the talk over the last few years around the death of the High Street continues to bother me. It assumes one thing: that online is killing traditional retail and will be the final nail in the coffin. But as I have continued to ask, is that really the case?

‘Traditional retail’ as we know it – what many would term as ‘bricks and mortar retail’ – has been around for a very long time, but it has always evolved. When I was a child, local stores would offer ‘home delivery’ – small vans chugging up and down the country lanes to bring us all manner of produce that we could have quite easily gone to collect from the nearest store … if we could be bothered.

Then supermarkets came along – and kiboshed so many small retailers. Their enticement was choice – and we changed our shopping habits to drive to out-of-town destinations and fill up our boots with produce that was new and exciting. We could be bothered, because the reward justified the effort.

Over the last fifty years, we have seen so many changes – department stores consolidating, supermarkets becoming hypermarkets, malls and mega-malls, Sunday trading, pound stores, forecourt shops, 24 hour opening, online shops, out-of-town retail parks … but always retailers vying for our spend with a changing array of enticements.

When I started working within the retail sector, I worked with a lady named June Denson. Many will remember June and her passion for retail marketing. She professed we shop in just three places: locally for convenience, regionally for choice – and one ‘special place’ where we love to shop for whatever reason. Since then, online has come to challenge, replace as well as support those three options. Yet June’s mantra still resonates. For us to change any of our shopping habits – we have to be ‘bothered’. It is a peculiar word – that tipping point between effort and want. If you can be bothered, the expected result is that you will be rewarded, the ‘bother’ very soon turning into a tangible benefit.

So should retailers be “bothered”? The ghosts of Christmases past are there for all to see. We have the results from many of the UK’s leading stores and one thing is very clear – it is not simply a case of ‘bricks and clicks’. That is not the panacea. Many stores provide multi-channel shopping – but some are failing to connect. Why is that?

As customers, we’re a funny bunch. We are difficult to predict and often harder to please. But one thing is for sure: we know what we like. If a retailer is offering us what we like (a very long, joined-up shopping list from branding-to-product-to-access-to-service-to-value-to-after-sales-care) – and that list reduces the ‘bothers’ associated with shopping, then we’ll support them, spend money and wax lyrical about how great they are … at least, for a day or so.

We are fickle towards retailers. We have a far stronger affinity to our local village, town or city.

Despite all the changes over the last generation, more often than not we still associate ourselves with a given destination – be it for work, shopping or socializing. If retailers get that nuance – and provide what we want and, increasingly, where and when we want it – then the High Street in any of those ‘destinations’ is far from dead. In fact, what we are seeing now could be the High Street’s renaissance … if only they can be bothered.


This Blog was first published on Huffington Post 2014

14/01/2014 05:45 GMT | Updated 15/03/2014 05:59 GMT