Small and medium sized retail businesses have the chance to flourish as big brands struggle on the high street, Advantage’s non-executive chairman predicts.

Steven Esom, who also chairs the British Retail Consortium, predicted more failures of big household names on the high street but said this was an opportunity for smaller players to step in and take advantage.

His comments are against a backdrop of trouble for department stores Debenhams and House of Fraser and ongoing closures at multiple travel agency chain Thomas Cook.

Speaking at the Advantage conference in Cadiz, Spain, he said: “There’s no doubt we are going to see a seismic change in retail. We will see more corporate failures in retail.

“Many brands have lost the art of communication with their existing customer base and don’t know how to communicate with their new customer base.

“Huge brands have got a problem in terms of how they market effectively – that is something everyone is grappling with.”

But he was quick to add that this provided an opportunity for small and medium sized businesses, like many of the travel agents in the audience.

Still on marketing, he added: “It’s something that Advantage members can really bring to the market – but you need to earn the right to be authentic, and you need to back that up with clear concise advice.

“Everyone is struggling to find new and authentic ways to connect to their customers. If they don’t find that way, someone else will and they will lose that customer.”

He went on to add that smaller, independent travel agents had the agility to change marketing campaigns quickly, and try new things without taking big risks.

It came after a keynote speech from BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith, who told delegates that the “era of  authority is over” and that “people now value empathy over expertise”.

For example, she said BBC stories about facts and figures performed dramatically less well than the same story repackaged with a real-life human example of someone falling victim to a scam that related to the same facts and figures.

“We live in an age in which feelings resonate more than facts,” she said.

In the context of retail, she added: “You will need to work out what that means for you and how you market yourselves to your customers.”