The decline of the high-street is inescapable. Every town centre in the country has experienced it to some extent or other. The major contributing factor is pretty obvious: online retailers fonehouse.co.uk are able to offer a wider selection of 5G mobiles, which can be navigated in minutes rather than hours. What’s more, they don’t have to pay the same overheads. It’s no coincidence that the fall of the high street has coincided with a protracted upsurge in online transactions.
It’s easy to look at these two trends and conclude that the high street is doomed, and we had all better get used to the idea. But the story isn’t quite that simple. There are some things that a physical store can do that a web-page will probably never be able to replicate. For one thing, an in-person visit allows us to inspect a prospective purchase. But perhaps more valuable is the non-functional experience that a real-world store can offer. Some real-world retailers have shifted their focus in this direction. The most striking example of this approach comes from the so-called ‘concept’ store.
What’s a concept store?
Things get a little confusing here, as the term ‘concept store’ has an older meaning: a store in which everything for sale is united under a certain theme. Stores of this sort would select items from lots of different brands, and thereby create a showroom for a particular sort of lifestyle.
In the modern sense, a concept store is a building which aspires to be more than just a place where customers can walk in and buy items. It also looks to integrate a sense of hospitality and community-building, and to inspire its customers to buy into a certain philosophy. You might think of a bookshop, where customers are invited to sit down in a comfortable leather chair and enjoy their newest purchase. One company that’s embracing this trend is Belstaff, whose stores in Munich, Glasgow and London have each created a splash in their own way. In the Munich store, there’s a café overlooking the nearby Residenzstrasse. Customers can unwind with a selection of coffees, teas, as well as more traditionally-German beers and wines.
This isn’t just a case of plonking a chain café in the middle of a store; the café is operated by the same people who run the Frank restaurant across the street. By taking this approach, Belstaff aims to preserve the local sense of identity – and give their customers another incentive to pay the real-world store a visit.
The internet might have provided modern consumers with a wealth of items for purchase, but it hasn’t yet turned us all into recluses. There are some things worth stepping outside for: the continued prosperity of local pubs and restaurants proves this: despite the unprecedented availability of take-aways and off-licences, and despite the premium we pay when we choose a bottle of wine in a restaurant rather than from a supermarket, we still enjoy eating out. The future success of the high street will depend on its ability to replicate this success. Belstaff’s concept stores do this by offering customers something more than the product!