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Cyber Christmas: Does The High Street Stand A Chance?

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When was the last time you visited the high street, and when was the last time you actually enjoyed the experience?

It only takes one episode of Mary Portas: Queen of Shops to bitterly inject with me with memories of the times I have sweated along Oxford Street only to be told by a half-arsed shop assistant that she's sorry but 'if you can't see it, we don't have it'. As these words are uttered, I normally spot a smug mannequin donning my chosen garment; obviously looking a lot better in it as it skims over her freakishly narrow fibreglass hips.

What the shop assistant is telling me is that my item is not currently in stock, (sorry!), and I need to go online to order it. So, on this dark and drizzly Sunday afternoon, the day before (insert important occasion here), I am being told I need to go back to the exact the location I departed from, to order something I've so optimistically trekked across country for. If I had not spent money tackling London's transport system, the item would theoretically be half price by now. Sheepishly ordering said item from my drained iPhone on the way home definitely has a stinging sense of irony and frustration about it.

It is not just for these reasons I am starting to berate the high street. The savvy internet shopper with an over-active inbox with subscriptions and alerts coming of their ears, could probably gather enough discount codes to go around the whole of John Lewis and back again with an Asda pocket tap and a free Waitrose dinner. Whenever I log on to my laptop, I am inundated with offers; being ushered left right and centre towards delightful deals, bargains, free trials, testers, and what's more, I'm being wooed by the prospect of such things arriving at my front door and, to think it couldn't get any better: gift-wrapped. In comparison, when I think 'high street', I think: full price, slow card-readers, and queues. So many queues.

'Sales' used to be something that would only pop up at specific times of the year, with shops brandishing loud red banners across their glass doors; piercing your peripheral eyesight and encouraging you to robotically browse the sale-rails even though nothing is of interest. It used to be a mad rush on Boxing Day as everyone dives headfirst into a money-saving mosh-pit, stocking up on discounted wrapping paper that would do nicely for next year. However, with the introduction of sites such as LivingSocial, Groupon, Twongo and Dealster, who are willing to give us these discounts and offers all year round (and in the comfort of our own home), it feels harder than ever to summon the physical energy to fight off our fellow retail-obsessed rivals in a small over-heated shop. And what's more, the online sale-rails we are browsing are not limited or left over stock - they now contain everything. 'Searching' doesn't mean digging in a bin of odd socks; it now means Google.

Virtual events such as Cyber Monday present us with solid web-surfing time where we can browse until our heart's content in the hope to save more money. Not only trending on Twitter but being used by big brands to taut their deals, Cyber Monday looks like its going to top last years record sales of the biggest and busiest shopping day of the year. Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) estimated that shoppers would fork out £3.72bn online over the next two weeks, which represents a 14% increase on last year's online sales. Online diary dates are successful for both vendors and buyers, everyone is on the same page, knowing what to expect and what items are best to search for on certain days.

Influencers are also changing. The number of consumers flicking through monthly journals such as Vogue and Tatler for fashion inspiration is slowly decreasing, and instead they are cruising the infinite blogosphere for ideas. Vogue blog writers such as Henry Holland gives us behind the scene sneak-peaks into what's hot and what's not behind his fashion label. This is what consumer find interesting, getting real-time updates from real people. We can filter out our personal preferences and look at what is affordable in terms of our own budget. Online blogs are easy to dip in and out of, not to mention giving us the immediacy of being able to click a link at the end of the post straight to purchase. Fashion bloggers are not only filling the front rows of high-end fashion shows, but they are also making a killing by selling their own merchandise through their personal sites. Bloggers such as LLYMRS and If You Seek Style are selling successfully through their 'shop' tab on their blogs, allowing readers to engage directly with them and easily replicate their style.

What do you think? Is the future of retail to be solely online? Are we starting consider the high street to be a place to grab a leisurely Starbucks but not a shopping trolley? It seems that it is now more important than ever for brands to devise and implement a good e-commerce strategy in order to engage with the increasingly savvy 21st century shopper.