Shopping online and through mobile devices has become commonplace, last year alone we spent over £78 billion online and retail analysts Verdict expect e-commerce to account for 15 percent of total retail spend by 2017. Meanwhile, Britain's high street shops are closing at a rate of 18-a-day, according to a study of 500 UK town centres by Price Waterhouse Coopers. This marked decline has led many experts to declare that we are witnessing the "death of the Britain's high streets". So with the rise of the iStreet is the traditional retail backbone of Britain - the High Street and its shop keepers - fading away? What options are available to shoppers and shopkeepers looking to keep shopping in the community?
First and foremost, it is vital we acknowledge the fact that in so many ways the digital revolution has levelled the retail playing field and improved consumer choice. Shop keepers are no longer held back by store space or location, jostling for retail position against homogenous high street heavyweights. In fact the internet offers many shopkeepers the opportunity to access a whole new demographic of customers outside their physical catchment zone. Meanwhile shoppers can now "pop to the shops" 24/7 from any device and better yet shop beyond their local high streets too.
So while there are naturally calls for the government to better support the High Street, the impetus should also be on our local merchants to get on board with e-commerce now or risk getting left behind. In fact, there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be able to shop local online. The challenge in many cases is one of experience and skill-set rather than willing. It's possible to have decades of experience in retail and not be armed for selling online.
It's these issues that are currently being addressed by the target200 initiative. Driven by MyHigh.St and the British Independent Retailers Association and sponsored by Rakuten's Play.com, this campaign is seeking to build 200 digital showcases of Britain's best High Streets hosted on the MyHigh.St platform, to provide a digital retail outlet to thousands of retailers.
As part of this, target200 is seeking to up-skill shopkeepers in local communities, offering them the tools, support and online know how to offer online services that complement their existing physical retail stores. The goal is to keep shopping local, whilst improving high street growth prospects.
Through this initiative shoppers will be able to visit their local High Street whatever the weather, any time of the day or night, via their PC, tablet, or mobile phone. The combination of e-commerce and High Street showcase, coupled with "click and collect" and an independent shops' loyalty system means shopper will be rewarded for shopping local too.
The retail sector is constantly evolving, but many things remain the same. Yes we want to shop locally and support our community, but we also want choice and the right price. Shopkeepers have known this for hundreds of years and it's not something that changes in the new retail world order. The retail knowledge hard earned on the High Street is invaluable online too; it's simply a question of getting to grips with the new skill sets required to put that knowledge into practice. Meanwhile, shoppers that love their local stores and want to find unique products on the web should explore beyond the obvious big brands and online marketplaces. My.High.St is a great place to start.