Fashion is an industry that has always claimed to be ‘forward-thinking’. This is a place that relies on being the home of innovation, where across the world billions of pounds are invested in what consumers will want before they even know that they want it – suggesting that planning ahead and anticipating change is just another day in the office.

Yet as the UK economy stoically recovers, some of Britain’s most recognised fashion brands are struggling to survive. With Burberry revealing cuts to address a 10% fall in annual profits reported in May, this week’s news of Austin Reed closing 120 outlets resulting in a loss of 1,000 jobs across the country, and BHS announcing the closure of their stores this morning, it begs the question – what else is on the horizon for the high street?

There are a number of contributing factors which are adding up to the inevitable conclusion of ‘Change’.

M&S’s latest decision to silence their shop floor speakers is just one example of how high street retailers are becoming increasingly savvy in order to survive in brick and mortar along many a beloved shopping district.

A recent Trajectory blog prompted by the Met Gala, discussed the way in which technology is increasingly becoming part of ‘us’, with its role in fashion serving as another example of how sophisticated inventions are making their way into our lives. So, it is no secret that technology and fashion are becoming steadfast friends, not only changing what kinds of clothes sell, but also how they are sold.

A new industry is emerging.

One that heralds the entrepreneurs of the ‘Start-up Generation’ where homemade ‘fashion houses’ can quite literally be run from someone’s living room. Thanks to promotion slots on social media and popular searching sites, a workforce as small as one person can take full advantage of the sophisticated technology an increasing amount of consumers have access to and are using. The latest wave of Trajectory’s Global Foresight data shows that the percentage of consumers in the UK owning smartphones has risen by 23% since 2011 to 74% , a growth which is mirrored by emerging industries of e-commerce as consumers are shopping more and more by swiping across a screen.  Gone are the days where effective advertising required the budget and prestige to land a page in a glossy magazine or the production of a television advert. With clever apps and even smarter smartphones, the dirty word of advertising has taken on a whole new meaning…something that must make the old school likes of Don Draper reach for another bourbon.

However, not only have the realms of shopping’s capabilities changed, so too have the expectations.

The Met Gala also brought another dimension of how attitudes towards the future of fashion are evolving, with the appearance of UK actress and UN Women’s Ambassador Emma Watson in an ensemble which was not only made out of recycled bottles, but designed in such a way that the train alone can be re-worn in thirty different ways (#30wears). With 21.9M Twitter followers and counting, this is no subtle statement that the way we think about what we wear and how we wear it is changing too.

#30wears

As sustainability is fast becoming an established point of concern in the industry, the foundation of fast fashion high street brands is coming into question and opening up completely new ways of thinking. Examples such as The Post Couture Collective, which provides an alternative to today’s fast fashion system, offers clothes that are ‘accessible, affordable and sustainable’ – a pledge that very few high street brands can claim as their own.

With affordability often resulting in consumers forgoing at least one of Post Couture Collective’s core values, expectations of budget brands are ordinarily lower than those in the luxury goods market.

Until now.

Which?’s latest survey of 10,000 shoppers revealed that when it comes to buying in the flesh, not just anything will do. The results found that the consumer of 2016 considers the following as most important:

  • the sensory experience of touching and feeling products
  • the satisfaction of immediate purchases
  • the chance to question staff

making the quality of material and customer service in high street destinations an increasing requirement, as well as proving that luxury brands need to rely on more than just the reputation of their emblematic logos to achieve customer satisfaction.

This leads me to the traditional Trajectory question (what would our blogs be without them?) – what does this mean for the future of the high street?

Well…in true, positive Trajectory style I’m pleased to say that things aren’t looking as gloomy as the second paragraph of this post might suggest. In all areas of ‘Change’ that the industry has explored so far a demand for shopping both on and offline still exists, leaving room for a more multichannel shopping experience in the future. The Which? survey reinforces this point, that people still like shopping the ‘old fashioned way’ except now these experiences are turning into a leisure occasion, where consumers aren’t browsing the rails because it’s the only way to find their next purchase, but because it offers another opportunity to meet with friends, stumble across hidden treasures and fundamentally gets them out of the house.

The brands that will be able to survive this transition will be the ones that are able to evolve with it and cater to ‘hybrid’ consumers looking for a retailer that makes walking into their stores a pleasure and not a chore, while still offering a seamless online service for when that next day delivery can feel vital. Anthropologie is a fantastic example of how a high street brand makes what they do beautiful, with each store feeling like a flagship, where onsite creative teams build sets for the shop floor and windows to make the products feel like they belong in what would otherwise be just another bit of retail space.

Though an ever-changing industry, with the latest trend and style ready to out-do yesterday’s look, the high street’s current transformation might appear disconcerting at first, but on closer inspection it’s heading in an exciting direction. The consumer of 2016 wants to be wooed and retail is just trying to figure out how best to get their attention.