Retail and Consumer
Retail is now entering a new frontier, says boss of Cheltenham's Regent Arcade
'Exciting', is how the centre manager of Regent Arcade summed up today's re-opening of retail, but added traders were now entering a new arena.
Many businesses, said Scott Lahive, would be reopening with new skills acquired during lockdown which would only benefit them.
New loyalties had been won as many traders had out of necessity embraced online trading, a world some had only seen as a threat before, with many also rolling out home deliveries.
And there had, he thought, been a dawning realisation - after the weeks of isolation - of the huge pluses a vibrant town centre could deliver.
In one way, he said, lockdown had spurred something of the revolution needed to transform the high street, but he was in no doubt of how precariously poised many businesses now were and of the anxiety about the future.
“There is excitement, but no one really knows what to expect,” said Mr Lahive, who stressed that great efforts had gone in to making shops and businesses safe to welcome back customers and staff and that it was about building confidence from now on.
Members of Cheltenham BID, the business group which strives to promote and improve the town centre’s offering for all, had been working hard to ensure measures were in place.
Kevan Blackadder, director of Cheltenham BID, said: “We’re really looking forward to a significant number of shops in Cheltenham town centre reopening both on Monday and later in the week.
“But it is crucially important that, as shoppers return to the town centre, they feel safe. That is why the BID has been working to install social distancing stickers both outside and inside stores.
Pictured above: Belinda Hunt (left), operations manager; Kevan Blackadder, director; Maria Allebone, digital and communications executive.
“We have also been working closely with stores of all sizes so that they are properly equipped internally for everyone to shop safely.
“It will be a learning curve and we expect to be making adaptations throughout the week.”
Mr Lahive said it was not just the changes to opening hours, the restrictions and anxiety around social distancing and the disruption to supply chains - there had also been a seismic change in consumers behaviour, and that impact had yet to be judged.
"Before (lockdown) you had a younger generation who were happy to shop online and had little loyalty to any of the physical high street stores.
"Then you had the middle generations who would shop probably still by price, but had loyalties perhaps passed on from parents that certain stores delivered quality.
"The older generation who were the stalwarts of the high street and preferred to shop in person have now discovered online shopping and its convenience by necessity."
In short, Mr Lahive said, retailers needed to not just reopen but repurpose, make good on those loyalties hard-won during the last few weeks from serving their communities, deliver a customer experience online does not, and continue to deliver online too.
"One thing we have all been starved of and that retailers and businesses and vibrant town centres can deliver and which I think we all now realise and value in a new way is the joy of human interaction. That is priceless," said Mr Lahive.
He expected, he said, the emergence of this ‘new high street’ to be gradual as everyone gained confidence and got used to new practices - but ultimately it was great, he said, to see Cheltenham opening for business again.
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