I have often talked of the "omnichannel" in my blogs, the merging of online sales and features - such as price comparison - with the experience of a real retail shop.
I believe that there is the possibility for online retail to coexist with the high street, but smart retailers need to consider how best to make it work. A high street retailer is not going to be able to undercut a low-margin online retail operation - as specialist businesses such as Jessops found out to their cost.
This excellent analysis by The Economist talks about how both forms of retail might work together and this comment captures much of what is missing in the debate:
Shopping is about entertainment as well as acquisition. It allows people to build desires as well as fulfil them--if it did not, no one would ever window-shop.
People still like to go shopping. They don't even buy all their groceries online, yet in theory most people would probably prefer to have their washing up liquid delivered rather than spending time personally fetching it from the supermarket.
But footfall in British streets has been dropping every year for the past seven years. Retail rents are still high and don't seem to reflect the new realities of a mixed retail market.
New ideas are developing that are giving the high street a fresh lease of life. Dixons has explored deals with companies such as Samsung and AEG where their new products are launched exclusively in Dixons stores. It's good for the store as they get the new products first, and the manufacturer likes to ensure that customers can see and touch new products in a real store before making them available on all channels.
Shopping centres that used to be entirely focused on retail are exploring how to become entertainment centres. The direct battle of the high street (as we know it) and online retail is evolving. In future this battle will only get more complex as both traditional and online retailers blur together, mix services, and innovate with new delivery models.