Faces and places give high street retailers a meaningful edge
The plight of the high street has been played out in the full political glare this week as Mary Portas, the self-styled ‘queen of shops’, squared up to the former Wickes chief executive Bill Grimsey.
With both presenting very different ideas for the rejuvenation of our High Streets – and the plight of independent retailers in particular – to the Communities and Local Government Committee, it seems timely to remember that retail brands play a unique and special part in the British psyche. This maybe shows that reports of their demise in favour of online shopping maybe somewhat exaggerated.
In fact and away from the doom-ridden headlines and political hand-wringing, retail was identified as the most meaningful sector to British consumers in the UK with five of the top ten brand places in our Meaningful Brands study occupied by retailers. While Google also makes an appearance, it is interesting to note that no pure-play online retailers trouble our list. Instead Marks & Spencer, Asda, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis seem to fulfil our rational and emotional needs rather better.
Why is this? Of course product and price play a part but it runs much, much deeper than that. British people care deeply about retail and the shopping environment in particular and these retailers have managed to create a feeling that they are doing good things – that they care about their customers, act responsibly and are open and ethical. They also scored highly in our study for people liking to be seen to use them.
While no one doubts that the traditional High Street faces challenges and that any help that can be given to encourage more visitors to use independent retailers is welcome (there is certainly no room for Quixotism here), surely there is also some optimism to be derived from our research. At a retailer level, the right approach that taps into how consumers feel about what differentiates them (as well as the right priced product), those that adopt a strategy that demonstrates they act in a ‘meaningful’ way to customers’ lives and more generally to society could also actually thrive – our Meaningful Brands study also showed that those brands that do this well outperform the stock market by a fifth. In short, being meaningful pays.