The ups and downs of retailing

By May 20, 2011Uncategorized

Not content with being the talk of the town since she wore that bridesmaid dress, Pippa Middleton has been hailed for giving a much-needed boost to the Great British high street as style conscious shoppers flocked to the shops in a bid to steal her style. But the reality is it’s going to take more than someone looking hot-to-trot to deflect from the never-ending negative PR stories on retailing.

Battling daily against so many hurdles, retailers are constantly fighting what seems a losing battle. If it’s not the unpredictable British weather, it’s high rents, road works or the cost of living, forcing consumers to weigh up the choice whether clothing themselves is a luxury or a necessity that’s to blame.

So when mother and baby favourite Mothercare announced this week it was closing over 100 of its UK stores, it was another reminder of the uncertainty the sector is facing. But as the brand becomes another victim swallowed up by the jaws of economic uncertainty, where’s the white knight coming to rescue the retail sector’s reputation?

Well, it’s Mary Portas, the new high street tsar charged with lifting our high streets out of a state of apparently terminal decline.

Recruited by the Prime Minister to ‘bring back the bustle‘ to Great Britains’ High streets. Mary has  worked her magic on a bag-full of high street stores including Topshop, Clarks, Oasis, and Harvey Nichols and has had success in bringing her feisty hard-hitting advice to TV on Mary Queen of Shops, Mary Queen of Charity Shops and Mary Portas: Secret Shopper.  An endorsement from the Prime Minister is a great bit of PR for Mary and her brand communication agency, Yellowdoor but she still needs to pull the venture off and with big and small brands closing more and more stores each month she’s certainly got a challenge ahead of her.  

The challenge Mary is facing is that while spending is down on the high street, it’s not because customers dislike the brands.  Yes, the stores are tired and the staff may be indifferent. But ultimately it’s all down to money and convenience.  Recession effects everyone, not just big businesses, and consumers simply have less money. When they do have cash to splash, many prefer to spend it in the more convenient out-of-town centres or online. 

So to persuade consumers back to the high street, Mary is either going to have to convince high street brands to drop prices or create a shopping experience so great that customers will be flocking to open their purses and wallets.  It’s a very different challenge to what she usually does and it’s doubtful whether even brand Mary Portas can regenerate our high streets to buck the recession and catch up with the 21st century. She’s putting her reputation on the line, so we’re watching with interest…