Posted on November 26, 2019 12:53 pm

How China is leading the way on the high street

A changing high street

In the UK, one of the big issues of the past few years has been the changing face of the British high street and the demise of some of its most iconic retailers, thinking of BHS for example.

In many cases the decline has been swift, unexpected and dramatic, causing anxiety for consumers, businesses and the public at large. That being said there’s another side to the argument that the high street is simply evolving in response to changing tastes and businesses that have failed to respond to a changing market have naturally failed.

In a survey by ComRes conducted earlier in the year, they found that 65% of British adults don’t think that the high street will even exist in the UK in 50 years, whilst 34% said it was an opportunity to help the housing crisis. A massive 76% of people also think that landlords should be more flexible to help out retailers on the high street.

Rising rents, lower footfall, more online shopping every year, a lot of the time the conditions for traditional retailers are simply too harsh to survive, but there is a bright side in that those that carve out a niche, and do things well are very often successful and popular.

That being said, are there lessons we can learn to help out the high street in Britain. We’re taking a look at China to find out what we can learn.

Investing in stores

According to an article for The FT, China’s $4.8 trillion retail market in physical stores has maintained annual sales growth of about 10 per cent every year for some time now. But as American investors start to bet heavily against traditional stores surviving in America and the UK, what’s the difference between the two countries, and why is China so successful?

One way which shopping centre owners in China are making the most of the physical space they have is reducing the space in which actual stores operate in and instead financially incentivising restaurants, cinemas and children’s educational facilities to open up instead.

Whilst online retail makes up over 46% of Chinese consumer spending, they’re finding that although physical stores are taking less of the share, the ones that are finding their way and offering a unique experience are thriving and growing.

Whilst customers still spend a lot online, many responded to questions about why they prefer to shop in physical stores by pointing out that they can’t always be sure of the quality of goods ordered from the internet, and that the discounts offered were often misleading and pointless.

Creating an experience

One shopping centre in Shanghai recently installed a Ferris wheel on the top floor to entice customers into their shopping centre, and according to the article above, the centre has seen footfall increasing and increasing numbers of visitors since they started to create more of a shopping experience, rather than looking to pack in as many shops as possible.

Many of the stores that do still sell electronics, for example, have started to install virtual reality zones and gaming areas where customers can have more of a social experience rather than simply browsing the shelves.

There’s lessons to be learned there for UK retailers, who too often are ignoring changes to consumer attitudes and aren’t innovating their shopping experience.

For example, people who sell candies, foods and confectionaries should be looking at making the shopping experience more interactive, with social media interaction and trying sessions where customers can indulge in American culture.

Many stores and retailers now celebrate things like the US Super bowl, Independence Day and Thanksgiving, where customers can take pictures, interact and involve themselves in American culture, and it appears to be working.

So if the lesson is there to be learned, it’s that Chinese retailers have woken up much earlier to the fact that today’s consumers and shoppers want an interactive experience rather than a dreary visit to a grey store.