Christmas debrief: how did the high street fare?

With the holiday shopping season done for another year, we assess the aftermath – and find glimmers of hope for brands that understand the new retail landscape…

For a long while now the fortunes of physical retailers have been precarious. From the liquidation of former high street favourites – most recently HMV – to disappointing sales figures in recent years, every day we read of doubts that the high street can withstand the online shopping revolution.

Key markers, like Christmas, can give us important glimpses at the truth behind the headlines. So now the holiday season frenzy is over, how are things looking?

The results are in

Well, Christmas shopping season didn’t start well.

According to Mike Ashley, Sports Direct billionaire, November sales were “the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He added: “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”

Misuse of the word “literally” notwithstanding, it’s a statement that will have filled retail watchers with worry. But what about Christmas itself? Early data is mixed.

Such disparate brands as AldiSelfridges and Hobbycraft have reported strong Christmases – the latter two citing forays into experiential events as numbers boosters.

According to retail consultancy Springboard, there were 3% fewer peoplevisiting high street stores than last year. And this is the third consecutive year that figure has fallen.

But does the decrease in footfall necessarily mean fewer sales? Well, department store giant Next reported a huge 9.2% fall in in-store sales this Christmas.

On the other hand, John Lewis reported strong Christmas Eve sales, but admitted that they started discounting products from 5pm, in hopes of boosting last minute figures. Overall, John Lewis sales were up 4.5% on the previous years. But this data is combined sales, so it’s hard to know how much online sales contributed to this figure.

What next?

Though Next’s in-store sales took a severe hit, their online sales were up an impressive 15.2% on last year. And with its helpful delivery options – including in-store collection within one hour and next day delivery to a one-hour slot –flexible credit options, alongside more traditional elements like its Directory delivered to your door, it’s easy to see why their online presence is thriving.

So all is certainly not lost, but it’s clear that the role of retail shops has changed. Many will die out if they continue to flog the same old horse. And this Christmas has seemed to echo the view that the high street needs to adapt fast.

Get to know your audiences

It’s easy to trumpet on about ‘going digital’ as the remedy for high street brands. But it’s also important to realise that digital is just another channel. Understanding your audience and how they might interact with your brand is the key to developing the right channel mix for your marketing.

It all starts with understanding your customer data, and interpreting it intelligently – you have to make your insight count.

Working towards a Single Customer View (SCV) is invaluable for seeing the broader picture for your customers – the devices they rely on, their life stage, their relationship stage.

For example, knowing your biggest customer is glued to Instagram, has just moved house and has two children can translate into smarter business decisions, based around their habits and needs.

Joining up the experience

The most successful brands join up their online and offline experience. Slick Apple stores that combine physical with digital are always busy. Even Amazon is expanding its physical presence, to stores that offer users a similarly seamless purchasing experience.

Creating a different, exciting and engaging in-store environment can help reverse the apparent high-street fatigue many feel. Check out our favourite five examples of brilliant experiential retail to see what we mean.

Suits you

Ultimately, each business is different, and you need to choose the right mix of channels to suit your business model.

But regardless of where you focus your energy, be sure to be consistent, customer-centric and always looking ahead for the changes that are bound to keep on coming.

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