Can Shops Put The Fun Back Into The Future of Retail?

Next shop in Chichester, Wet Sussex
Next shop in Chichester, Wet Sussex

Major fashion players like Top Shop, H&M and New Look all have great looking websites and are popular examples of commercial cornerstones in several busy cities across England. The pandemic has lead to companies in 2020 experiencing disruption to trade not seen since World War II. It will take time to tell if their in-store sales will be good enough for them to continue to be a viable and profitable proposition after stock, staffing costs, rates and electricity is all deducted from their annual turnover.

Retail companies are adaptable chameleons. In March millions of UK workers swapped their fancy offices in important commercial districts for their home study nooks and kitchen tables. Instantly clothing businesses jumped on the loungeware bandwagon promising to deliver the softest threads that will allow everyone to attend multiple zoom meetings in maximum comfort.

Casual wear is now deemed totally ‘de rigeaur’ for everyday life. Silky pajamas, fresh tracksuits and pretty slippers have quickly became Spring’s go-to must haves for footwear. A whole throng of fashion houses have been getting out their easy breezy basics and touting their athleisure inspired lycra ensembles with enthusiasm.

Shirts have also had a moment too, as nobody sees or cares what anybody else on the virtual conference call has on from the waist down. Sarah Young at The Independent reminded us all that getting dressed is essential to keeping in the right frame of mind to be work productive. Miss Young recommends wide trousers as the trendy solution to doing all our various activities at home in loose and relaxed bottoms. (1) have made reasonably priced face masks a pretty, useful and affordable accessory. For those who prefer washable investment pieces features small craft businesses who are offering innovative and decorative versions. This year Marks and Spencer have had a rainbow themed summer sale and raised an incredible £32 million for NHS Charities Together. (2)

Attracting and keeping customers is particularly important now. For example New Look are offering anyone who joins their mailing list 25% off their first order. There was some good news for the industry when the government declared recently that they are offering all ‘Small and Medium sized Enterprises’ loans of up to 25% of their turnover up to a maximum of £50000.

The government guarantees 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. After 12 months the interest rate will be 2.5% a year.” declared Gov.UK the government’s official website, after chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement at the end of April.(3)

If boutiques and shop owners feel confident enough to apply for this loan it will give them an opportunity to invest in new equipment or some website development, or do some additional online advertising. The state loan can also significantly help SME’s pay wages to hopefully get them through an unexpectedly difficult year.

Current restrictions to normal retail selling practices include omitting the food or drinks promotions and free tastings usually provided at a special event at non-food retailers. In the past many successful evenings for vendors who sell beauty products, clothes and home furnishings have involved entertaining their loyal patrons with lots of little delicious treats and samples.

Charming their regular customers into parting with their hard earned cash has been a long standing strategy for good day at the mall for everyone. It is possible to provide alternatives instead and John Lewis have shown their ability to re-think their concept quickly. They are tempting their loyalty card members to attend online beauty meetings and receive a goodie bag of wrapped mini cosmetics from their suppliers. The partnership is also leading the way with offering virtual wardrobe make-overs for clients. A dedicated individual style adviser can be available by appointment to recommend pieces from their current range to achieve a perfect look every day of late summer and into the autumn.

Residents in England are slowly getting used to the new normal. Most people in England want to start getting out and about again and are keen to support their local businesses. The shop keepers have had time to prepare reopening after lockdown and are efficiently managing the customer flow into their buildings to ensure there is a limited number of browsers inside at any time.

The general population know that although sadly around 50 people per day are still dying with Covid-19. The numbers of English residents passing away due to the awful virus have been under 100 throughout the second half of June. To put that in context the number who so unfortunately died with coronavirus is in fractional terms a sixth of the amount compared with the awful figures in April, when tragically the daily figures consistently reached more than 600 deaths occurring in England.

The general public’s fears are decreasing slowly in line with the fall of coronavirus cases. There is still a long way to go before a vaccine is widely available and the risk to health when going out and here in Great Britain is minimal once again.(4)

Multi-channel web retailing has been key to keeping the tills ringing throughout 2020. Those companies who have been able to operate successfully in both their physical and online commercial platforms will be the survivors of this extraordinary year.

Modern brand managers know all about communicating with their stylish followers using the power of social media. Online marketing is a great way to keep people motivated and informed about what is happening. Followers like to know what is in stock within their favourite designer’s different collections and ranges that it is possible to purchase both on and off line. Competitions, videos, blogs and pictures of social influencers can all help to convey all the information and stories that shops want to share with their patrons.

These consistent seasonal messages provide visual interest and continuity. These lively posts build understanding and trust with a brand. Knowing the latest news and seeing the latest designs will keep all ages of shoppers bouncing back into stores that appeal to their budget and lifestyle. Platforms such as instagram and facebook give businesses an opportunity to hold live online events and share the benefits of their latest wares.

Public transport is currently reserved for essential journeys only. This measure prohibits a significant percentage of English residents from just popping into town to relax with family or to meet up friends to chat outside in a safe distance way. Those without cars who live outside walking distance from their nearest retail centre are not able to stroll around the arcades and hang out in attractively constructed central areas or look around in stores to see if there is anything ‘that catches the eye’.

Towns like Havant in Hampshire have declined to charge motorists arriving at the Meridian Centre for several weeks which helps increase the amount of families and individuals frequenting the companies situated in the struggling heart of this old market town. Most out of town outlets have free parking so this decision can be vital for councils looking to regenerate their commercial streets.

Car parking charges have been accused of harming trade in cities around the country for several years and before the coronavirus pandemic came to the UK. The local councils set nearly all of these charges so this could be a relatively easy opportunity to ensure that premises on the high street survive long term.

With the virus under control communities will be once again ‘voting with their feet’ in their localities. Purchases that are made with hand held devices are vital to any UK company now and an efficient delivery process is crucial to meet demand. In the first quarter of 2020 there has been a sharp increase of internet sales as a percentage of total sales. Since lockdown internet sales have jumped from 20% in 2018 to 33% in May 2020.(5)

Adapting quickly is essential for the success of any organisation during this extraordinary year. Staying in tune with a very cautiously spending public who is willing to quickly and publicly review any organisation on social media as they spend is a priority. Meeting the expectations of the charitably minded values of today’s sustainably and socially conscious consumers is also vital. Creating sensory experiences that bring moments of joy to those visiting physical shops is the way to cheer everyone up and get men and women in the mood to brighten up their homes, themselves and their children.

Therefore it is the most strategic, resourceful and technologically adept organisations that will stay in business and flourish. These retailers succeeding will be crucial to able to provide the millions of jobs in our cities, towns and villages that we need for people in our service economy, during the next decade and beyond.


(1) ’12 best women’s loungewear pieces: Self isolate in comfort and style’ Eva Waite-Taylor, 3 April 2020 ‘Loungewear guide’ Waite-Taylor, The Independent

(2) ‘We’re all in this together” Marks and Spencer website, 9 July 2020 Rainbow sale Marks and Spencer

(3) ‘Apply for a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan’ Gov.UK 8 July 2020 ‘Bounce Back loan’ Gov.UK

(4) ‘COVID-19: Death Data in England’ Jason Oke & Carl Henegan, The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, 8 July 2020 ‘Covid 19 deaths England’ Oke and Henegan, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

(5) ‘Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales (ratio) (%) ‘ Rhian Murphy, Office for National Statistics, 19 June 2020 ‘Internet sales as percentage of total retail sales’ Rhian Murphy, Office for National Statistics