The high-street is suffering: from smaller shops faced with rising business rates, to larger household names planning to close stores across the country. When you consider the pressures traditional bricks and mortar retailers are facing; cost pressures, import fees, and the rise of international e-commerce competitors, it is easy to understand why.
While some were quick off the mark to suggest that the high-street was set for a resurgence following great footfall numbers during the Christmas period, we are not seeing this burst of in-store shopping sustained all year round. Yet, the picture is not entirely clear cut; the pendulum has swung back somewhat with on-line retailers such as Amazon, opening a new generation of stores, signalling that shops on our high street are by no means on their way out as convenience and getting a sense of the touch and feel of a product are still key drivers for people heading to the high-street. But to really drive traffic, retailers have to provide added value and shopping must become even more of a social experience, offering additional services in-store, such as champagne shopping, 3D printing of customised sweets, tailoring or free beauty mini-makeovers. At the same time, brands can use this as an opportunity to engage with consumers in-store.
When we look at the ongoing battle between high street shops versus online retailers, we really need to look at what is going on across the global retail landscape to understand what is to come in the UK. In parts of Asia, for example, e-commerce is booming thanks to a big digital push around mobile and events such as Singles' Day is becoming more and more popular. It can be said that this trend is spreading across the globe; we are seeing a rise in pure-play online retailers, especially clothing brands, while those brands with a limited online presence that are focused on physical stores, are suffering.
Over the next few years, we will begin to see more emphasis being placed on flagship stores, creating a personalised experience. In addition, there will be a rise of click and collect options, including collaboration with online retailers that do not have a physical presence or have the capacity to deliver directly to people's homes. It is also vital for retailers to offer a robust returns process that is simple, secure and efficient to enable appropriate aftercare to customers. In-store loyalty programmes are also powerful tools in driving engagement, provided brands give customers choice over their own benefits, rather than forcing them into a one-size-fits-all scheme.
High-street retailers must change with the times - quickly. This starts with assessing what they can do to revamp their in-store experience to get consumers physically engaging with the brand and its products, but also making sure they are also building a broader omni-channel experience that includes novel ways to interact online shoppers. What we are seeing is certainly not the end of the high-street retailer, only a need for constant innovation that wholly embraces technological advances to remain relevant.