There has been much media recently surrounding vacancy rates and the demise of local retailers, with rents of large shopping centres pushing smaller retailers out, and the larger centres and online retailers driving consumers away from the traditional high street retail strips.

Over the past two years Grant Thornton has interviewed and surveyed over 600 shop owners in the main street shopping precincts of Mosman, Newtown and Paddington in Sydney, and Richmond, Fitzroy, Camberwell, South Yarra and Prahran, Armadale, Collingwood and Brunswick in Melbourne, with similar findings – retailers in the high street locations are facing many challenges to survive.

The good news is that retailers in these famous high street malls are, in general, optimistic that their retail strip has future growth potential.  

"Of course, no retailer is immune to the pressure of online, mega and international retailers within the Australian market. However, by understanding that they have many more unique characteristics to compete on rather than price, local high street malls and their individual retailers have long term potential for growth."

- Robert Scheiber

Councils are key

Lively and vibrant main streets with the buzz that a busy crowd brings are the dream of any local council. It makes the high street a destination for out-of-towners, and makes the local surrounds a sought after housing location that is ’in walking distance to village’. It increases the community spirit of the locals that in turn provides for greater community involvement in other local activities. Retailers must, therefore, work together with their local council areas and/or business chambers for a win-win solution. One that offers:

  • Accessible parking – a valuable rate and a time period long enough to wander the shopping precinct, whilst raising appropriate funds for the council.
  • Gentrification of the main street areas to bring a sense of pride and atmosphere to the area, creating a destination to visit.
  • Entertainment, whether that be through cafes, street fairs or community activities to bring both locals and out-of-towners into the high street precinct during both day and night.
  • The right mixture of services, food and other retailers – to attract locals and out-of-towners, providing opportunities for them to linger.

Target your offering to the market

Our research has shown that those retailers most likely to have greater success in the high streets are those with an upmarket, niche offering with a premium on-trend product. With a minimalist, clean style in season, the shop fit-out does not have to break the bank but can be done simply to convey an on-trend image. And with a perceived high-end product mix with clever styling, retailers can entice customers through the door.

Personalised service and convenience

The key differentiator a high street mall has over the mega-shopping centres of today is the community spirit and familiarity between the retailer and consumer, as well as the ability to ‘pop down to the shop’ for the urgent purchase. And with this brings trust from the consumer to retailer, and repeat business.

No one conveys this better than the local pharmacist. They greet you by name into their store and we trust them with our family’s health. In return, they get repeat business and the consumer receives exceptional service.

Other retailers can replicate this level of personalisation and convenience, tailoring to their customer needs. A café can remember your coffee order and develop a relationship so that you chose to visit their establishment for the family weekend breakfast. A bookshop can stock the book lists required by the local schools, along with fun reads and educational toys, and the fashion retailer can be known for stocking unique gifts at appropriate price points.

An online presence doesn’t need to be overwhelming

The retail industry is one that is ripe for social media and an opportunity presents itself as a channel to increase customer interaction and improve the customer experience. Many high street retailers will not have the resources - predominantly time and money, to invest in a true online store. But clever use of social media can have your customers working for you. Examples include having customers posting images of them wearing/using your product on Instagram and Facebooks comments, shares and likes. 

Take the time to work on the business

Our research conducted in major high streets revealed a large number of retailers not having a business plan or strategy, and a higher number, over 50%, not implementing any exit plan. Such plans are crucial for any successful business and will address disturbances such as those mentioned here. By foreseeing these external factors and knowing your target market, product and future plans, a retailer will be in a much better position to be on the positive side of change. 

High Street malls have historically been a unique and iconic feature of the inner city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, catering for all demographics where a sense of community thrives. Shopping complexes, global entrants and online trading are providing new challenges requiring innovation and lateral thinking by local high street retailers. With a sound business plan, a unique offering and a personalised and convenient service, local retailers have the potential for growth and a long future ahead. And by working with the community, retailers can assist in keeping our local high street malls a thriving place for local communities to gather and celebrate.