Why ‘out of town’ retailers still matter

In May, we saw the Treasury committee report recommend that banks maintain a physical presence around the country and Dave Lewis, Tesco CEO, discussing the contentious issue of business rates and how the current system doesn’t support growth, to which I completely agree. Pressure is bearing down on the high street from every direction.

But when we talk about the high street it conjures up the image of your local high street or at the other end of the scale big destination shopping like Oxford Street, Westfield and Bluewater. But there’s a whole tranche of retail that doesn’t often get talked about and that’s out of town. And I don’t mean out of town where there’s a couple of DIY stores stuck on an industrial estate, but shopping areas where there’s a myriad of shops, restaurants, cafes and free parking.

There’s lots of advantages to these out of town shopping areas and every time I go to my local one it’s mobbed. They appear to have it all, well nearly all because who said, “out of town” had to mean “out of fashion”?  And this to me is where retailers are missing a trick. These shopping areas tend to be functional and soulless with shops that feel more like kitted out warehouses, rather than reflect the glamour of shopping on the high street. If rent is cheaper and people are flocking, surely this is exactly the place for retailers to focus on bringing more experience – not just convenience – to consumers and see revenue soar?

Retailers should be thinking and prioritising the next iteration of their store concepts in these locations. In a recent survey we conducted ‘Service not Sci-fi’, 81% of consumers said they felt that personal customer service has disappeared from retail and that they would pay extra or search out a shop for the customer experience it provides – that’s pretty telling.

So, let’s use our imagination here…you’ve gone to your local ‘out of town’, walk into Next and it’s looking sophisticated and epitomising cutting edge retail where there’s a team of customer service assistants ready to help you. But before they do, you are welcomed to the Leisure Lounge. They offer you a coffee and chat to you about your preferences and advise and offer an opinion on the best items, styles and fits for you.

They offer to get you a range of products to look at and leave you to choose. And when you think things couldn’t get much better, they offer to book you a one to one meeting with a stylist.

While reading this you’re probably thinking – this just sounds so obvious – well I agree, but why is no one doing it or doing it well? These out of town shops are crying out for the experiences and concepts / flagship stores once reserved for the high street and high end destinations. These spaces provide retailers with a great opportunity to expand their personal services and make customer service assistants combined with the experience the focus of these stores.

I suggest retailers don’t wait to be pushed but get on the front foot and make these out of town stores the best they can be rather than disregard them as the poor relation. In addition, they can spread some of the great ideas and concepts that are currently the preserve of destinations such as The Bullring across the rest of the UK. All this will help sure up their future rather than focusing on what once was.

Daniel Todaro is the MD of Gekko

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