04 Aug

As you enter, the excitement is palpable. Everyone around you has that sense of anticipation. Children excitedly chatter and tug at their guardians steadying hands to move faster. The music envelopes you and then suddenly an explosion of colour and pure joy. 

The castle in the distance expresses its splendour.

Hustle and bustle, every shop brimming with unforgettable experiences. A whole world if experiences beckon yet still people actively enter and exit every shop looking to add every extra dimension to their experience. After all, for many, it’s once in a lifetime experience.You have truly arrived. 

Main Street at Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Now I am a Disney fan. Big time.

I am not however a fan of the High Street at the moment. So, I wonder what we could learn from Disney to make them better.

Let’s first consider the role of the High Street.Traditionally a place people would go to try out things and see what’s new. 

As a child, a trip to the shops on a Saturday was exciting for the whole family. It was the only place to do this. Now Amazon does much of this. Many other retailers let you order and get delivery in a matter of hours, try the product out in the comfort of your own home and return it if it’s not right. 

The choices online are extensive, far more than in any high street shop.

Now the need for display and try is no longer something unique about the high street.

When you go to Disney, parking is already a fun experience with clear signposting, trains with hosts to get you to the front gate, all helping to raise the excitement levels. 

And it’s FREE. 

Most town centres have become no go zones for cars. Greedy councils who are not satisfied taking what they can in business rates also strip any hard-earned wages from shoppers for their car parks, with bays so narrow its as if they were designed for a 1920’s vehicle.You have to bag a bargain somewhere just to pay for the privilege of going shopping. 

A 10% discount on a £60 purchase should do it!If you are lucky you can have a £1.99 burger from a fast food joint with the ticket you printed out….. next time you visit!

Access to the High Street is bad and when I get there, the goods on offer are just the same as they are online. What to do about it?

Let’s consider why people go to the High Street. For those that do, it’s all about the experience.The sounds and smells, touch the goods and the colour. It is a feeling that as a keyboard warrior you just cannot experience.

Shops should become unique experiences rather than manned warehouses. What could that look like?

Well, let’s consider what the online arena is missing.The main thing is you. Some clumsy algorithms can match to your previous online behaviour but does your mobile really see the glint in your eye, a widening of your pupils or get a sense of how you are feeling right at the appropriate moment. Does it seek to gain a true understanding of who you are, why you are looking to make a purchase, what your level of undertaking really is when it comes to buying. 

Do you feel it’s personal?

Do you really experience that warm smile and wave as if from a passing Disney character which, for a moment, makes you feel like you are the only person there? Fleeting maybe but nonetheless a feel-good factor.

The High Street can do this too. Moving away from “Can I help you?” requires a different change of attitude to “How can I help you”. Therein lies a real opportunity for the High Street to become a bazaar of educators, entertainers, experts and sense makers, guiding us to be able to buy not just something but the right thing.

Imagine going into a cook shop and being taught to cook, or a clothes shop and having someone explain what you’d look good in, or a jewellers and taught what looks best with your style or a pharmacist to be given a lesson on how to look and feel healthier or a café where the origin of the coffees or teas was explained to suit your palate or a sports shop that took the time to understand your level of expertise or teach you about different sports.

If you took a Disney immersive approach to all the things that were being sold, creating individual personalised experiences, then would that make people more inclined to go for a day out?

In a small pedestrianised area in East London, a young entrepreneur opened a book shop but with a difference. Firstly, she laid it out with tables and chairs among the bookshelves and offered coffee and cake, whilst she waited for a licence to serve something a bit stronger.She invited authors to come to the shop to talk about their books. She ran reading clubs and if you want a book, if she does not hold it in stock, she’ll order it in for you. There are networking events throughout the month. The shop has become a focal point of the area. Does she sell books? More than she should given the location. But she doesn’t just sell books, she offers an experience where the books are just the inspiration. 

Imagine if every shop on the high street did this. 

Would your enjoyment of eating, drinking, reading, cooking, photography, computers, fashion, interior design etc increase? I believe so. 

Now a day in the High Street could be like a retail Disneyland. A set of unique experiences that leave me in a much better place than before.

Recently Rochester cathedral hosted an art installation of a giant moon. Magnificently hanging in the middle of the cathedral this installation showed in close-up the actual surface of the moon in glorious detail using a clever backlit dome.

According to the staff, they could not recall so many visitors with upwards of 360% more than usual.By having such an installation, it changed people’s experience of a cathedral and generated more footfall, adding a new dimension to what is already an amazing building. By creating an unusual experience more people found themselves there.

What if it cost you £40 to park for the day but you had a ticket that got you free workshops, big discounts, free coffee and cake and changed shopping into a learning experience to help you enjoy a better life.

Make the high street a fun destination and people might just pay to go there.

Now that could be a way to put the high into the High Street.

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