The high street must adapt as report warns of hundreds of Norfolk store closures
PUBLISHED: 08:28 01 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:19 01 June 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
Thousands of shops could close as the retail sector lurches deeper into "crisis", claims a new report which offers suggestions for how the high street should evolve.
Nearly one in 20 stores (4.8%) in Norfolk is predicted to close within four years as retailers continue to battle with online competition and changing consumer habits, according to the Centre for Retail Research.
But, the county looks to have come off better than the rest of the East of England which is facing a forecast 8.1% fall in the number of stores over five years, and outperforming the national prediction of 18.4%.
However, retailers are already taking steps to adapt by providing experiences for customers and making their stores a destination, as well as giving them something to show off on social media.
Prof Joshua Bamfield, director of the Norwich-based CRR, said it appeared Norfolk had already suffered the pain after losing 1,350 stores from 2012 to 2017.
Among those to have closed are famous names such as BHS and Toys R Us, while others such as New Look and Carpetright have been forced to shut shops.
Prof Bamfield said weak growth, rising rent and rates costs as well as a move towards customers favouring experiences and destinations had taken their toll on the traditional retailer.
Lowestoft Vision chairman Danny Steel said while business improvement districts (BIDs) like his were working hard to reverse the trend in footfall, the key would be to adapt.
“I do not think anybody would say that we are going to be able to change the way that the high street is going,” he said. “More and more of us are shopping online, we have the out-of-town retail parks that local authorities are very keen to introduce, and every time another shop opens in an out-of-town park or mall it has an effect on the main shopping area, and we cannot turn that back.
“We need to manage the change in the high street and I think we need to be looking at the high street offering as more for specialist style shop that people will come to get advice from.
“They have to offer a price that will make people want to buy the products as well, but that is one way we can help to preserve the main shopping areas.”
Prof Bamfield’s research also shows ways businesses can thrive and survive, as consumers are drawn to the high street by experiences over pure price appeal.
The rise of social media platforms such as Instagram may also have fuelled this, with shops and restaurants competing to create the most photogenic products and venues which customers are keen to share online.
Department store Jarrold has chosen to focus on making shopping an experience for customers, adding a wine bar and restaurant to make it a destination where people will spend longer.
Trading director John Adams said: “Retail is going through a challenging time at the moment, but here at Jarrold we are aiming to turn these challenges around by offering an experiential offering in-store and online. The success of the new deli and wine bar on the lower ground floor has seen footfall increase, so much so that we are looking to double the size of the wine bar and we have already opened new restaurant The Exchange as part of the lower ground floor development.”
Others such as accessories shop Lisa Angel and opticians Dipple and Conway treat customers with exclusive VIP events, while computer game store Game has created a gaming area for customers.
Dipple and Conway director Matthew Conway added: “We are lucky we are in an industry where the internet hasn’t usurped us because people still want to see a human being for eye tests.”
Ellen Tilney, economic development officer at Norwich City Council, said while there were challenges on the high street, primarily from technology, these were not unique to the UK or even to the industry.
She said: “There are undoubtedly huge changes happening and they are going to continue happening.
“Those who adapt will do well and I think fortunately we are in a forward-looking city which has things other than retail to offer.”
She added while well-loved brands such as Woolworths had gone others would step into their place with companies such as Zara and Boden going from strength to strength.
As well as a calendar full of festivals and events Norwich has a large catchment area, with shoppers coming from Norfolk, Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire, which Paul McCarthy, general manager of Intu Chapelfield, said was important in bringing different brands in.
He said: “Retail always is and always will be very competitive which is one of the fantastic things about the industry and that drives value for customers.”
Peter Hodson, board member of King’s Lynn’s BID, said small business owners are working harder for their money, adding national companies like Mothercare “haven’t moved on like other companies have”.
He said the introduction of a farmers and crafts markets have proved successful in encouraging more people to visit the high street.
The New High Street
The Centre for Retail Research’s Retail at Bay report argues there needs to be a government led approach to “rescue the high street” – focusing on entertainment.
Among its suggestions are holding more events a such as festivals and exhibitions, ensuring a mix of uses within city and town centres and keeping commercial areas clean by getting rid of eyesores.
Another key is for businesses to work together for a common goal.
Breckland Council released app ShopAppy in April which enables retailers to sell their products on a digital high street of independent shops – giving them a 24-hour online presence.
Another scheme aimed at stimulating business in a Norfolk town is the Enjoy Cromer More membership card scheme, launched by newspaper publisher Archant. Holders of the cards have been able to access discounts and special offers at shops around town.
Some names which have gone and others living on
Several businesses have entered administration or even disappeared completely over the last 18 months.
BHS left perhaps the biggest gap in the high street in recent times when it collapsed into administration in April 2016 before finally being liquidated in December that year.
Toys R Us ran into trouble in 2017 and narrowly avoided administration in December. It finally came to a head in March this year when the retailer announced it was to close all stores after failing to find a buyer.
Marking a bad day for retail Maplin entered administration on the same day as Toys R Us. Administrators have made redundancies but the company is still running.
Fashion firm Jaeger closed 20 stores in April 2017 as well as its King’s Lynn distribution centre.
Furniture seller Multiyork collapsed into administration in November 2017 with its Thetford head office and factory closing.