Our last #FrameLive session explored how the local high-street revival can maintain momentum and whether there is space for international brands to live alongside independent retailers.

Pre-pandemic, bustling shopping locations like Oxford Street in London attracted tens of thousands of people per day. Home to premium but mainstream brands, they were a magnet for locals and tourists alike. One pandemic later, city-centre high streets like these are empty. Global lockdowns have resulted in people working from home and consumers committing to shopping either online or local. What can retailers learn from this recent surge in shopping local and how can that momentum be kept as city centres reopen and e-commerce continues to gain in efficiencies? How will major brands need to adapt their offer if they are to succeed in a world of smaller, more distributed and more localized stores? And: what’s the future for independent, local retailers and how can brands make their relationship with these retailers become more mutually supportive?

These are the questions Frame’s director Robert Thiemann posed to a panel of experts in our latest #FrameLive session on the future of the high street. Together with Doug Stephens founder of Retail Prophet, Nick Brackenbury, co-founder and CEO of NearSt and Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director at Portland Design, he discussed how localism will reshape the retail landscape. Here we outline four of the many takeaways – and share a video of the full talk.

Brackenbury believes shopping is going to be a blended and seamless experience that combines the online with the offline. You might ask your smart speaker what local physical store has your size sneakers in store and pick them up down the road, rather than getting them shipped from the other side of the world.

Consumer expectations of convenience and speed will change drastically.

‘In our one year of being very digital-first, people have gotten used to frictionless shopping. I think that will drive their expectations and behaviour when they return to the physical space. I can predict, potentially, the death of the queue in any shopping environments,' said Ibrahim.

Brackenbury agreed, saying that ‘standing on London’s Regent Street it may be easier to buy something from a warehouse hundreds of miles away than it it to get it from a shop that’s a 100 m away from you right then and there.' He continued: 'Even though research shows 90 per cent of people want to support their local shops and businesses, it’s so convenient to shop online that we’ve become conditioned to it. So I think high-street retailers are going to really have to think how they up that level of online convenience to help get people into the great and authentic offline physical experiences that they're offering.’ Brackenbury’s retail technology company NearSt helps achieve just that. By connecting every product in every shop worldwide to the web, they make it as easy to find something you want nearby as it is today to find it online. Thus the company brings people back into physical retail by connecting the world's local inventory to digital networks.

Ibrahim adds that it’s not about delivering online or offline, but delivering fast and slow. ‘Retailers should think about what their hyper convenient, frictionless fast offer is and what’s their slower, immersive and experiential offer, both of which should be online and offline.'

Ibrahim highlighted the importance of creating a more symbiotic relationship between the local independent retailer and the landlord. In UK’s Poole ten retail units have been provided to start-up and independent businesses rent free, aimed at breathing new life into an increasingly vacated central city street.

Local retailers should join forces and collectively connect to their trading areas.

'Small- and medium-sized, local, independent retailers oftentimes feel like they are the prey to predators like Amazon and other multinational marketplaces. That is true until all prey come together and create something that has a gravity to it that equals the likes of Amazon,’ said Stephens. 'Collectively embracing and celebrating the situational aspects of the neighbourhood that you are in as local retailers in an authentic way helps construct a greater sense of place and gives people a defined reason, atmosphere and energy to come to that shopping district. If merchants sharing and area start to gather power as a group instead of remaining disparate entities, they can connect to their trading area and to consumers as a group.’

Big brands can employ data to stock small-format stores congruent to local needs.

Stephens also sees opportunities for bigger brands to tap into neighbourhood shopping districts. ‘They can weave themselves into the fabric of communities without feeling like a big global brand moving in,’ he said. Both he and Ibrahim showed an image of the Nike store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles (cover image), which uses data from local users of the Nike app to constantly adapt its offer, also functioning as a gathering place for its running club. Stephens mentioned the approach reflects a shift he described in his book Reengineering Retail, in which he outlines how physical stores move from their traditional position at the bottom of the marketing funnel to the top of that funnel, where the store no longer simply acts as a vehicle for distributing products to a market but for customer acquisition. 'They became a local data point and experiential playgrounds where a consumer could be sort of inducted into the brand in in an immersive, physical, tactile way. Ultimately, it becomes the perfect point to expose the consumer to the digital ecosystem that the brand has,’ he explained. ‘And’, data gathered via that ecosystem can then inform a 'sense of congruence around the products that are in the store’.

Ibrahim also applauded the hyper-personalized in-store product offering based on data. 'Understanding exactly what's happening in the in the local catchment through granular data and really thinking like a digital-first brand as a legacy retailer, is very impressive,’ he said.

Rapha’s Clubhouses host an extensive programme of events, fostering its community road cyclists and fans of the sport.

Consumerism is no longer about gaining status from the product, but from community, knowledge and skill.

Showing a picture of the Clubhouse of cycling clothes and accessories brand Rapha, Ibrahim highlighted the importance of shifting from product to service. ‘Rapha took its product and identified a really passionate community of cycling fans and then created a whole series of "service experiences" around these spaces they call clubhouses,’ he said. 'What local retailers can learn from this approach is to invest in creating experiences around learning to galvanize local communities around passions. There is this really interesting research, by amongst others Westfield, that says around 40 per cent of shoppers are interested in taking lessons in their local stores. I think the key to experiential and immersive experiences is community. It’s about creating experiences around your product, which are targeted at a community around interests, and not around demographics.’

Watch the full talk here: