The alternative view to Mary Portas' take on the future of High Street retailing

17 July 2013

Barry Moles

Barry Moles


The CLG Committee campaign asking the public to ask Mary Portas questions following her recent review into the future of high streets is a great gimmick and one which should be used much more widely by politicians to engage, listen and respond to the electorate.

As a retail professional with more than 20 years of experience advising industry leaders, I believe retailers should take note of the power of social media channels such as Twitter to get closer to customers.  But this is a topic for another blog and a different day. Let's revisit #AskPortas.

I will, from today until the 2nd of September, when Mary Portas is rolled out in front of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, provide answers to the questions asked of Mary. Mary and I see eye-to-eye in some areas. Elsewhere, such as the role of the high street, my views are radically different. 

The reason is I recognise that the high street is not the future of shopping - and, to this end - from a retailer's perspective, the future for business leaders is embracing new and emerging shopping channels such as online, mobile, and wearable technologies. Mary's focus on revitalizing the high street is noble - and it's needed.  However, we must be careful where we invest taxpayer money. 

My belief is that if we help retailers succeed, our high streets will benefit.  Mary, because of her background as a traditional retailer herself, wants to focus on improving the shopping experience in-store.  For certain, retailers need to focus here but it's secondary to what industry leaders are doing which is embracing better, more modern and relevant ways of engaging customers. It's Omni-Channel.

So, with Mary in my mind, let me answer today's questions posed by @patmcardle51 and @marklerigo:

@marklerigo "What more should councils be doing to help the high street & will she share best practice examples?"

I do have a few ideas on how the high street could be revitalised. 

Local councils need to work closer with retailers than ever before.  At the moment, local councils collect a lot of information about businesses and taxpayers - much of this can and should be shared with retailers to help grow and proper ton the high street. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that personal data be shared with retailers - instead, only anonymised social-economic-demographic data businesses can use to identify where to open new shops and what products and/or services should be offered to citizens.  This is a three way win:

  1. Inhabitants can shop locally with confidence that their needs and wants will be met because store shelves will be stocked with relevant goods
  2. Retailers can have the information to base strategic business decisions-on such as where to open stores, what tailored goods and services to sale including what to make on offer based on the purchasing power of the inhabitants
  3. Local councils can earn additional revenue by charging a small fee to retailers seeking to gain access to anonymised social-economic data.

@patmcardle51 "Can 'pop up' shops have a part in revitalising our high streets?"

While pop-up shops are always a useful addition to any high street, they should be used as enhancers. Pop-up serve to augment the total retail experience for shoppers but they cannot and never will be used by retailers as a standalone strategy to revitalise our high streets. The reason is - by nature as a pop-up - only offers a temporary shopping experience; once the pop-up has gone, the retail space is vacant, waiting for another paying tenant. Most 'pop-up' prefer to open during peak seasonal trading such as Christmas or during peak trading hours such as theatre dinners. 

@Mouse_to_Minx "What can you offer now to businesses which were innovating, breaking the mould and setting trends in 2008 when the rug was pulled?"

The new High Street needs innovators and the government to focus on regeneration.

@KboroChamber "How can a charming, historic, picturesque #NorthYorks mkt twn not known for its shops, become known for its shops? #knaresborough"

Interesting question. Its about making the total town centre a balanced proposition with retail and food and fair car parking



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About the author

Barry Moles


I am a retail expert, having spent more than 20 years in numerous managerial and operational roles including merchandise, supply chain, finance and marketing.

I bring a unique hands-on perspective to advising clients having worked in every retail category (food, electrical, clothing, telecoms, pharmacy, charity) across all consumer channels (out of town, online, shopping centres, department stores, concessions and outlet villages) for major retailers in the United Kingdom.

My passion, amongst many hot topics facing retailers, is helping senior executives and their teams plan and run omni-channel retail strategies.

When I am not with a client, I can either be found on the high street or travelling the world with my family.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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