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Britain’s dwindling high streets: How small businesses can stay afloat in a digital world

Written by Latifa Yedroudj on Friday, 22 November 2019. Posted in Insight, Analysis

As consumers look for easier and more convenient ways to shop, how can small businesses keep up with the changing times?

Britain’s dwindling high streets: How small businesses can stay afloat in a digital world

As consumers look for easier and more convenient ways to shop, how can small businesses keep up with the changing times?

UK’s high streets have seen a massive slump over the years. On Monday, party leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, facing pressure from MPs to abolish business rates. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said removing the tax will help “rescue the High Street”. But what can small businesses do to keep their customers coming back? Deyan Dimitrov, CEO of Europe’s leading laundry start-up, Laundryheap reveals the key ways companies can continue to grow and expand in a digital era.

It is essential businesses look for innovative ways and think out of the box as industries continue to evolve. Sticking to traditional, conventional methods can prove destructive - and many long-standing companies have taken a hit. Rather than a reduced demand, consumers are simply looking elsewhere for products and services that suit their changing needs, Mr Dimitrov explained.

“The demise of bricks and mortar businesses like Thomas Cook and Mothercare demonstrate the perils awaiting those who do not continually innovate,” Mr Dimitrov said. ‘It’s not that demand for holidays or baby clothes has dissipated, but that consumers are making their purchases elsewhere. Those who failed to keep up with these evolving consumer behaviours are fading fast.”

“This means that, as the layer of “traditional” businesses begins to disintegrate, a harsher light is now being shone on digital businesses for the first time. Being digital-first is now considered a prerequisite rather than a USP.”

Going digital is not enough. Most companies have already made the switch, and more often than not, launching an online platform is insufficient in this day and age. Businesses need to understand the changing market and keep in line with the shift in consumer ideologies.

“And with this ever-expanding wealth of offerings at our fingertips, consumer expectations have shifted accordingly,” Mr Dimitrov said. “No longer is it enough to have an online presence or e-commerce capabilities. We want things faster, cheaper, and more convenient than ever before. So, as the on-demand economy demands even more, how can businesses ensure they keep up?”

Mr Dimitrov stressed how businesses must understand their consumers, build a strong brand identity and focus on the quality of their products in order to stifle out the competition.

“The first step is to insulate yourself from competitor panic,” he said. “This doesn’t mean digging your heels in, nor burying your head in the sand as challenger brands and disruptive businesses emerge. Instead it’s about knowing your market and customer well enough to stand firm in a competitive, fast moving marketplace.”

Not every company is one-of-a-kind. Many offer similar products and services to their customer, but what differentiates one from the rest is their continued emphasis to add value to their consumers’ lives.

“Few companies operating in today’s economy are truly unique,” Mr Dimitrov said. “Uber, Google, Facebook - all behemoths of the modern world - all have competitors looking to knock them off their pedestal and steal market share. What keeps them at the top are varying combinations of strength of brand, quality of product, and a continual drive to add value to the end user. In short, they are confident in what they are offering and how they are offering.”

Companies who brainstorm innovate ways to keep their customers are the ones who outdo their competitors, Mr Dimitrov said. Businesses can look at launching new services and products to retain their customers and even bring in more clients.

“Innovative companies will also be thinking about customer service, auxiliary services, and new ways of retaining old customers. Just look at Uber with their new Jobs offering, or Facebook eyeing up the dating market.”

The first step businesses can take is to understand their consumers. It is important companies get a good grasp of what their customers are looking for and keep up with their changing demands.

“The first step is to insulate yourself from competitor panic,” Mr Dimitrov said. “This doesn’t mean digging your heels in, nor burying your head in the sand as challenger brands and disruptive businesses emerge. Instead it’s about knowing your market and customer well enough to stand firm in a competitive, fast moving marketplace. Few companies operating in today’s economy are truly unique. Uber, Google, Facebook - all behemoths of the modern world - all have competitors looking to knock them off their pedestal and steal market share. What keeps them at the top are varying combinations of strength of brand, quality of product, and a continual drive to add value to the end user. In short, they are confident in what they are offering and how they are offering.”

It is also essential that companies add a touch of care to their services which can help turn one-off customers into regulars – inevitably spelling success for them in the long-run.

“In an era of impersonal retail experiences, small touches that add customers satisfaction to the experience can, for example, turn an individual from one time user into a regular,” Mr Dimitrov said. “Likewise, as consciousness of sustainability grows, those who fail to take it seriously may find themselves facing public ire. There is no ‘end goal’ when it comes to consumer facing business and truly innovative business don’t forget this.”

Businesses must keep up with the trends and truly understand what their clients need as ideas and trends are always evolving. Putting this on the backburner could spell serious trouble for high street stores. Building a forward-thinking strategy has never been more essential in this digital era, Mr Dimitrov said.

“Delaying investment in new software systems, cutting corners on developer talent, or putting off that strategic review until next year; these will all be nails in the coffin when held up against businesses for whom constant innovation is a cornerstone,” Mr Dimitrov explained. “Consumer behaviour and demands are ever-shifting.”

Businesses must also not be afraid to take big risks. Investing large amounts of capital in new products or services can help skyrocket your business, but could also spell downfall. Leaders who understand their market and are able to take calculated risks are the ones who often reap the rewards.

“Investing in predictions can feel uncomfortable, even scary,” Mr Dimitrov said. “Risking hard won capital or investment funds on new features, products or service offerings that you believe, but don’t know, will help grow your business will always feel like a step into the void. But the best leaders are those who understand their markets well enough to take those calculated gambles.”

“Look at how Blackberry steadfastly refused to embrace the touch screen, until it was too late. Comparatively, McDonalds were out the gate at lightning speed as public rhetoric began to turn against fast food, revolutionising their supply chain and fast-tracking through new product lines before long-term damage to the brand was done. Putting your money where your predictions are is the only way of moving forward.”

Being digitally adept is no longer sufficient in this day and age, but more so building a brand strategy and constantly evolving is the only way businesses can continue to thrive in the ever-changing market.

“Being digitally savvy is no longer enough to protect any company from the choppy waters of the market,” Mr Dimitrov added. “As more and more businesses disappear from our high streets and indeed our web browsers, no one can afford to rest on their laurels. It’s time to keep your eyes on the future, get to know your customer as well as possible, and not shy away from investing in a future-proofed growth.

“It’s difficult to determine how far the on-demand economy will take us. But what is certain is that businesses of all stripes must continue to innovate, or run the risk of being outstripped by nimbler rivals with their finger on the pulse.”

Britain’s high streets continue to decline at a rapid rate. As MPs pledge their commitment to cutting business rates and saving the on-going epidemic, small businesses can help themselves by understanding their consumers and building a brand strategy to take their company to the next level.

About the Author

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj has joined the Elite team to fully immerse herself in the business side of journalism, a strong passion of hers cultivated from young having co-run her mother's start up business since she was 18. Her interests lie in a wide range of subjects, including start ups, business, travel, and anything entrepreneurial she can get her hands on. She has worked for some of the biggest names in journalism including The Guardian and The Mirror. Follow her on @latifayed on Twitter for her latest journo rants.

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