When you have been in business as long as some of our team here at Pursuit Software, you really appreciate the changes that the retail sector has been through over the past few decades and some of the challenges that a new retail environment can pose. What you also learn over time, is that many things in the retail are cyclical – things come round again and again, usually in a slightly different guise, but often with the same underlying features. Take customer service. The 1950s and 1960s are seen by many as the ‘golden age of customer service’. What was so special about shop assistants in those heady times? They spent time talking to the customer and discovering what it was the customer wanted. After a few years of faceless shopping encounters, where speed and anonymity have been the watchwords, now it appears customer service, personalised and bespoke, is back. The introduction of systems such as SmartMPOS are at the forefront of this return to great customer service. While innovation such as contactless payments and computerised stock checks are undoubtedly helping improve customer service, innovation has also proved a challenge to the shops on the high street. Among high profile casualties are Woolworths, Clinton Cards, HMV and Blockbuster. Many of the factors in these retail giants demise can be laid at the door of changing shopping habits, facilitated by innovation. In the 1980s, out of town retail parks challenged the independent town centre stores; the 1990s onwards has sent the rise of home delivery and online shopping. Shoppers are as likely to buy and receive goods from the comfort of their home as they are to go out and look for items in shops. The picture on the face of it is a bleak one. Pessimists would have us believe that the high street is now nothing but a line-up of charity shops and betting shops. Where town centres once thrived, there are now empty ghost towns, with just a little tumbleweed blowing down the street. In fact, figures released by Deloitte suggests this is far from an accurate picture. The business consultants looked at 5,900 shopping spaces that have been re-let recently across the country to analyse what was actually happening on the high street. This is what they found: Re-occupation rates for high street shop spaces (70%) are significantly higher than they are for shopping centres (55%) and retail parks (45%). Discount and surplus stores account for one in five of all re-let shopping spaces. Grocers and convenience stores have used the space to return to the high street. Cafes and charity shops have taken advantage of empty spaces but the increase in the number of betting shops and pawn shops is nowhere near as significant as perception would have us believe. And this is why: Discount stores have stepped in to replace Woolworths in response to demand for everyday household items. Click and collect is a highly powerful shopping tool. Grocers are taking advantage of an increased customer preference for ‘basket shopping’ rather than ‘trolley shopping’. The cost of motoring is persuading shoppers to ‘buy local’. The recovery of the high street is far from complete but the outlook is also nowhere near as gloomy as many would have us believe. To make this particular cycle complete, independent retailers on the high street must make sure that their service matches the demands of today’s customer, namely: a good customer service, a well-stocked and high quality shop, a personalised and bespoke experience and good knowledge on the part of the sales staff.