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High fives on the high street? Hardly....

Ian Wright

Steve Jobs’ famous quote that “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” is an adage that rings especially true for the UK high street at the moment.

Steve Jobs’ famous quote that “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” is an adage that rings especially true for the UK high street at the moment.

Having completed the spring 12 round-up of our high street Hit or Miss features last week (if you, er, missed them they’re online in full), stripping back all the anecdotal evidence of poor service and untidy changing rooms, one thing that was glaringly obvious was how safe a great deal of the collections were.

The concept of the high street is a uniquely British thing to the point where the American market doesn’t understand the term and the French and Germans don’t have a direct translation. As a nation we should have the high street thing pretty much down, but I can’t help thinking that, save for a few notable exceptions, the product mix was a tad incoherent.

For every big retailer that proposes fresh and exciting collections there are two or three who play it safe, sticking to what they’ve always done for fear of challenging their core customer to the point when they leave for more familiar surroundings. Yes, shoppers are still buying the merchandise, but how will the high street ever move on if its retailers are so cautious?

Customers are unlikely to spontaneously ask for the next big thing because they don’t know what that is – as the retailers are in the position of being able to bring the hot trends and exciting products to a mass audience, is the onus not on the high street to keep things interesting? After all, customers cannot buy what hasn’t been made.

With the internet stretching shoppers’ horizons further than ever before, big retailers are under the spotlight. The high street might argue “if it ain’t broke…” but for me that’s one adage that on this occasion doesn’t ring true.

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