How can retail brands survive the “Bloodbath on the high street”?

Find out why the high street is currently in crisis – and what brands can do to attract and retail customers.

The UK high street is in crisis. Last year we saw household names like Toys R Us, Poundworld and Maplin disappear, and in December the Telegraph predicted Debenhams, Mothercare, New Look, Monsoon and French Connection would all face a bleak 2019.

And it’s no surprise high street brands are struggling when getting customers through the door is harder than ever. Footfall on UK high streets plummeted by 4.8% year-on-year in May 2019, and declines were seen in every region, and across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres.

The situation has become so dire that the national media are now picking up on the story, describing it as a “Bloodbath on the high street.”

How bad have things got?

According to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) July report, “Sluggish sales growth and declining footfall… contributed to the rise in town centre vacancies, which rose to their highest level since January 2015.”

They continue, stating that, “the ongoing challenges faced by bricks and mortar destinations is reflected in the rising vacancy rate, which has increased in every quarter since January 2018 and now sits at 10.3%.”

It’s getting so bad that even customers are concerned. Research by KIS Finance has revealed that 61% of Brits are worried that the high street will disappear completely over the next ten years.

What can retailers do to stem their losses?

So what can we do about it? Is there anything that can save the high street? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer could lie online.

A number of case studies have proven that a combination of online and DOOH can actually increase footfall in local outlets. Here are just a few examples:

  • Subway measured an increase of 30% in customers who had watched the ad and visited a Subway restaurant near them.
  • Home furnishings retailer, ScS, used programmatic to deliver product offers and location-based messaging – resulting in a 57% increase in store footfall during March and June 2016 compared with the same period the previous year.
  • Combining mobile geo-location data and passive ad tracking technology has shown to impact the lower funnel, and lead to an average 14.2% uplift in store footfall following digital ad exposure.
  • Ikea found that paid search activity resulted in 10.6% of people who clicked on an ad making a visit to a physical store. Online-to-offline attributed revenue also was revealed to be almost three times greater than online revenue alone.

How the digital geo factor can help drive local footfall traffic

In the new world where there is a necessity to be clear and transparent in the use of personal data, targeting based on broad location rules still sits firmly outside of legislation and use of personal data. Why? Because it is not about an individual data subject, but instead it is about content that is relevant to where anyone might be at that moment in time. It enables advertisers to be relevant to anyone happening to be in that location at the time.

We know the digital geo factor works well from offline to online because, in collaboration with our agency partners Adgenda, we won an award for a campaign for We were able to demonstrate that targeted advertising based on broad geo smashed all media and awareness KPIs, and brought in a high level of new users.

And if the digital geo factor works from offline to online, we know it should work even better for localised offline to offline – and help drive footfall traffic.

How can you boost your own footfall?

The good news is that the digitisation of traditional offline media is starting to put this format alongside traditional online formats (banner and video) in the reach of all our clients, and a combination of the online geo and DOOH geo can be a killer combination for both online and offline performance.

Our own activity with a big retail client showed that good geo based relevant advertising delivered a really decent in-store halo effect alongside proving a business case for online sales, generating an average of a 10x more in store revenue than online revenue.

If you’re a retail client looking to increase your in store footfall, here’s what we recommend:

  • Digital out of home and online video run on the same underlying technology, so if you have access to create multiple variations of VAST and VPAID tags, then you can leverage these across multiple formats, but make sure to think about the creative capability you have to run this successfully.
  • Understand the audience that you want to target, and then find the locations. For store-based activity, pick the geo within walking distance of the store focusing on maps as part of the DOOH build and links to store locators in online builds.
  • Align the messaging with your marketing calendar, whether company wide or store specific, and build the different variations based on the relevance to the audience and the location.
  • Think both offline and online. Whilst a core KPI might be to drive footfall, everyone has their phone a lot of the time, so make sure the message is consistent across channel, talking about online benefits as well as store benefits.

We don’t believe that bricks and mortar stores are going away. Instead, if they want to survive the increasing high street ‘bloodbath’, they need to change their contribution to the overall customer experience.

In the same way brands are trying to link their overall customer proposition to be omnichannel, the same needs to apply to relevant advertising. You need to leverage all your assets, including your stores, for full lifecycle marketing.

Want to know more about how we can help grow online and offline sales using lifecycle marketing? Get in touch and we’d be delighted to help.