It can be hard to retain confidence in the British high street. There seems to be a negative headline every couple of weeks, whether it’s the recently reported slowing rate of store openings, or retailers cutting back their brick-and mortar presence.
All this accentuates the fact that retailers now operate in a market that has been reshaped by digital disruption and changing consumer habits. However, we should remember the high street is still an incredibly important place in the UK retail landscape.
Nation of shopkeepers
A brick-and-mortar retail presence still holds weight. If you’re searching for evidence, you need only look to the many pure-play brands and ecommerce retailers who have made calculated moves to establish themselves on the high street.
One of the most prominent recent examples is Amazon. Not only has it opened its own stores, it made a huge investment in the power of the high street with its purchase of Whole Foods.
Although there was heady debate about this move, it instantly gave the ecommerce giant hundreds of physical retail outlets.
But Amazon isn’t the only one. Apple’s state-of-the-art stores create a near-unparalleled physical shopping experience, proving that, when approached in the right way, brick-and-mortar can be a significant source of competitive advantage.
The retail business is kept largely separate from the rest of the organisation, demonstrating the extent to which Apple believes in the power of the in-store experience.
Re-thinking the shopping experience
For the modern shopper, there is no longer a hard line separating the in-store experience and the ecommerce experience.
A person shopping for summer holiday clothes might begin researching a purchase on their laptop on their lunch break, make a short-list of options on their mobile on the commute home, and visit a store after to actually try on clothes.
Retailers need to adapt to this changing consumer behaviour by thinking of digital and in-store as part of the same journey.
JD Sports has led the way here, recently announcing strong annual figures thanks to the way it provides a cohesive experience to people shopping across multiple channels. It’s not the only one. Asos has enjoyed a strong bump in sales off the back of connecting its high street presence to its click-and-collect services.
The key here is to ensure that at every stage and across every channel – whether first seeing the product while browsing a retailer’s website or organising delivery of an item – a shopper doesn’t encounter inconveniences or discrepancies between different parts of the shopping experience.
The power of technology
The in-store experience can be a powerful source of advantage – we found that well over half (58%) of shoppers have been persuaded to buy a product by a superior in-store experience in our recent Forgotten Shop Floor research.
Technology can play a key role here; we’ve also found that the quality of in-store technology can significantly impact the loyalty of shoppers. Despite this only 50% of retailers in the UK have a digital strategy in place that could support this goal.
Store closures, job losses, and bankruptcies – these are all the serious consequences of retail failure. Success is increasingly marked with advanced digital offerings that are often connected to a strong brick-and-mortar offering, as the modern consumer responds enthusiastically to those that enable them to shop in their preferred way.
It’s the retailers who listen to this customer need and uphold a unified strategy throughout the business that will reap the reward.
The high street isn’t dead, it’s just growing up. And retailers need to grow alongside it.
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