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Keeping an eagle eye on the high-street

Posted by: Graham Cox on February 20, 2012

In the City of London, £60,000 is spent every year to scare off pigeons from around Trafalgar Square, with the use of a Hawk. With the fabled British High Street strip of stores facing tough times, there’s a new flock that points the way to a brighter future.

Obviously it’s not actually our feathered friends that can save the day, but a brand that has taken the bird as its mascot — Funkypigeon.com. Owned by British bookseller WHSmith, Funky Pigeon joined the high-street brigade by moving from the web to brick-and-mortar stores in 2011 as Smith’s saw profits rise across the business. It stands as a fantastic example of how the face of the high-street must and will change to survive. In truth it’s an evolution, dispelling the negativity that grips the media to concentrate on the opportunity before us.

It’s not just a case of strong online brands moving on to the high-street. It is the innovation they can bring with them. Apple is a great example of a brand that truly expresses its values through its retail stores. As consumers we all want something different, something new and something of value. We also want to experience the brands that we build an emotional attachment to, as Apple expertly achieves with the layout of their stores. Consider the assistants that can process payments on the spot, within seconds of a product demonstration, and then provide theatre style educational classes, which are open to all, to inspire creative ways to use their software, apps and devices.Other examples of innovation in-store range from the most simple and accepted self-serve tills to the more tentative exploration like Topshop’s augmented reality mirror in Russia. Tesco’s even tried to bring their shops to the people with a virtual grocery store in South Korea. But what can we learn from all this?

Fundamentally, it’s that businesses need to react to the times and ensure their brand sits at the heart of their organisation to drive innovation that is manifested on the high-street in a new and engaging way. This is the only way to keep consumers emotionally attached. Another good way of looking at this is to question how well some online brands would do if they moved into a high-street near you. The likes of Wiggle, Blurb and ASOS could redefine consumer expectations by delivering a brand experience in real life that has driven their success online. Running tracks and static swimming pools could replace shelves and hanging rails for Wiggle, while Blurb hold creative writing classes and print production sessions to educate their audience and help them build their attachment to the service and the brand.

There are so many creative retail opportunities for brands to explore. The high-street will be back, bigger and better than before. We just need to remain eagle-eyed for what consumers want and how they want to relate with brands, both online and offline.

Graham Cox is Senior New Business Manager, Interbrand London

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