The high street, it appears, could be experiencing a revival. The arrival of experiential stores and pop-up shops in recent months suggests that bricks-and-mortar retail may be back in vogue, with net store closures at their lowest since 2017 and new openings becoming increasingly common. However, with footfall still 10-20% below pre-pandemic levels, it is not a return to business as normal just yet, as revealed in a 2023 PwS report.
The retail pop-up market specifically saw substantial growth in the United Kingdom, with a rise of approximately 18% in the number of such outlets in 2022. Take, for instance, Blakely Clothing, an expanding British fashion brand. The Blakely Westfield store in Stratford opened its doors in the summer of 2023 as a pop-up outlet and soon established itself as a mainstay in the company's brand offerings.
Blakely, established in 2012, built its reputation and following largely online through a vibrant social media community. However, its recent arrival on the high street has also demonstrated its strength in physical retail. Gareth Newman, CEO at Blakely, explains, "Brick-and-mortar stores drive the human connection we are all missing. After three years of lockdown and an eCommerce boom, a whole new generation of brands were born through social advertising and the increase of online shopping."
"However, as we spend more and more time looking at our phones, there could be a few reasons why consumers are looking to go back to the high street and shop in physical form. If the queues at Bicester Village on Boxing Day 2023 were anything to go by, shoppers are more keen than ever to have the in-store experience," says Newman.
Looking forward, Newman sympathises with consumers who might desire a change from the digital realm. Affirming that in-person shopping, especially in the fashion industry, offers tangible benefits, Newman states: "By returning to stores not only are consumers able to get a feel for the brand but also a feel for the item. In one interaction, the customer can understand the brand, its shoppers and the quality of the item they are purchasing."
The CEO further highlights the potential of physical outlets as platforms for fostering community engagement and delivering unique shopping experiences that exceed what online retail can offer. "An immersive shopping experience has a deeper impact on customer loyalty than that of an online one. Blakely is capitalising on this with pop-up shops, events and most recently, a new permanent store in Stratford Westfield, which held an opening event with customers, influencers and celebrity guests," adds Newman.
Orientating towards a customer-centred strategy, Blakely's 2024 agenda includes exploring further possibilities in in-person shopping and consistently nurturing its community both online and offline. As such, despite the obvious convenience of online shopping, the brand is enthusiastic about the possibility of customers stepping off the digital treadmill and back onto the high street.