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Hello high street, we’ve missed you!


When the pandemic ended, exciting things were predicted. We’d ditch our boring partners, burn our dreary leisurewear and find our dream career. 

We’d travel the world and dine out every night. Most of these rash imaginings never came to pass, but there was one big behavioural shift nobody saw coming: we started shopping in actual shops again.

The many forecasters who predicted that lockdown would mark a permanent rejection of bricks-and-mortar stores were wide of the mark. Rather than relishing the convenience of shopping online, it turned out that we missed touching fabrics, trying on clothes and interacting with sales assistants who could tell us whether blue was our colour or rather made us look as though we’d been brought back from the dead.

The retailers who pre-empted this shift back into real high-street stores now find themselves in an enviably strong position. Phase Eight, for example, is one of Britain’s unsung success stories, having opened 13 new stores in the UK last year. And it’s set to expand further, with more shops planned for the coming months.

Some labels that began life as online-only brands are also beginning to see the value of a more personal shopping experience. Digital-first fashion brand Albaray, launched by a team of former directors of Warehouse in 2021, has branched out on to the high street with its first physical retail store, which opened in Chichester in December.

Hobbs, too, has seven new locations confirmed for store opening this year, including East London’s Canary Wharf, Watford in Hertfordshire and Trafford in Manchester.

Customer service is something we all missed during the pandemic, and no one more so than the cautious shopper who would rather take her style cues from the friendly high street than the forbidding catwalk. ‘Our brand is warm and welcoming,’ says Phase Eight product director Sally Piasecki. ‘We have dedicated personal stylists, as well as product experts who can support and hopefully inspire.’

John Lewis reports a similar upturn, with footfall up three per cent year on year, ‘Especially on weekends,’ says communications manager Hannah Doran. ‘That’s when we are seeing customers return to the shops for a day out.’

But if the store’s environment is important, so, too, is its location. 

Post-pandemic, upscale destination shopping centres have seen a surge in popularity, thanks to their convenient parking and thermostatically controlled environments, which allow visitors to leave their coats in the car and make an afternoon of it. 

Phase Eight has traditionally had a strong presence in affluent market towns – Cambridge, Harrogate, St Andrews. Piasecki says its current priority is shopping centres, with openings planned in Bristol, Kingston and Edinburgh, as well as its first standalone store in the Republic of Ireland: ‘We’ve seen shopping at the weekend become popular again. 

Customers go out for the day with their friends and have lunch. So, say farewell to online shopping from the sofa in your lockdown loungewear – and long live the high street.    

Phase Eight 

phase-eight.com 

Shirt, £75

Skirt, £79

Shirt, £75 ; Skirt, £79

Jacket, £110

Jeans, £89

Jacket, £110; Jeans, £89

Dress, £139

Dress, £139

Albaray

albaray.co.uk 

Cardigan, £69

Skirt, £79

Cardigan, £69; Skirt, £79

Jacket, £110

Jeans, £99

Jacket, £110; Jeans, £99

Jumper, £75

Jumper, £75

Hobbs

hobbs.com 

Shirt, £89,

Blazer, £229

Shirt, £89; Blazer, £229

Shoes, £139

Belt, £59

Shoes, £139; Belt, £59

Jacket, £299

Dress, £189

Jacket, £299; Dress, £189

 Compiled by Sophie Dearden. 



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