October 21, 2011

Hitting the high street

There are exciting developments for the UK’s high street from two of its most prominent players. Primark has denied the rumours that had set every high-street fashionista’s heart fluttering: it will not be launching an ecommerce site. Instead it is sticking to its business strategy and commitment to the high street by growing its presence by 10 percent over the next year.

WHSmith’s is also putting its money on the high street and taking the online bookseller and card retailer Funky Pigeon, which has never before had a high-street presence, and launching three new store formats in high-footfall railway stations in and around London by the end of the year.

WHSmith is so convinced the (previously) resolutely online brand Funky Pigeon can succeed on the high street it’s prepared to invest in transforming it into the next Paperchase. This despite falling industry figures for stationery and books sales. The high-tech Funky Pigeon stores will be complemented by a further 19 WHSmith stores scheduled to open by the end of 2011.

“All this is extremely positive news for the high street and hopefully signals an upturn in its fortunes,” comments Helen Littlewood, oneagency.co’s new client services director and retail marketing expert. “We’ve waited a long time to see real investment and belief in it, and these two brands are doing it wholeheartedly. Each has such conviction in its respective brand that it is prepared to go against the norm: Primark by continuing to shun ecommerce; and WHSmiths by taking a successful ecommerce business onto the high street when most continue to invest in online brand building.”

We all know the key to successful retailing is seamless multichannel integration. While most other retailers on the high street embrace multichannel operations, such as ecommerce, click-and-collect, and mobile and smart phone apps, Primark is resolutely sticking to its business strategy, which, though successful, is not universal and would be unlikely to work for any other brand.

Helen, however, believes Primark is right to steer clear of ecommerce: “Primark’s fast, low-cost fashion would be a logistical nightmare to manage online. Such a large and highly-trafficked site would incur massive set up and running costs, taking it a long time to turn a profit.”

Helen continues: “It’s an incredibly positive development to see such investment in the high street and the conviction these brands have in themselves. While WHSmith is taking a risk, it is a calculated one and one which it plans on supporting with a multichannel marketing campaign. Primark is going against the norm – let’s not forget that ecommerce campaigns are one of the main reasons many businesses survived the recession.

“Overall, high street retailers need to add value outside of a price message. The retail environment needs to be inspiring and service levels exceptional. John Lewis is a classic success story whereby understanding your customers, ensuring a strong product offering and service levels, and a clear message marketing campaign will, despite a tough economy, deliver growth and profit.”

If you’re in the retail business – on the high street or online – and are considering investing in a marketing campaign give Helen a call on 01603 252555. She’d be delighted to chat through the options with you.