Much to the dismay of small business owners, over the last decade the British high street has been portrayed as a crumbling relic of its former self. Once the beating heart of towns and cities across the UK, consumers have since shunned the traditional shopping experience in favour of the next-day, free returns and often discounted online retailer. Physical shops seemed to be something that maybe wouldn’t even last our lifetime.
However, earlier this month the British Retail Consortium reported a change in favour of the high street, with footfall rising 1.2 per cent on January 2015, marking the first rise since July 2013.
Add to this the fact that formerly online-only retailers, such as Amazon and Made.com, are now opening up shopping experiences and it would be understandable why some are already branding this the resurgence of the high street.
These retailers aren’t branching out on to the high street as online profits are drying up, far from it. Amazon posted its most profitable quarter ever for Q4 2015 and is showing little sign of slowing down. Essentially what it’s doing is creating an extension of its website and in doing so giving its customers a tangible ‘shopping’ experience, as opposed to simply ‘buying’ online. For Amazon, online sales will remain the driver but this physical shop will play an important role in supporting this platform, meeting the customers’ need for a more personal shopping experience and also helping Amazon to become even more dominant in the market.
Another way retailers have been seen to re-connect with their customers is through concept stores or pop-ups. Net-A-Porter, the high fashion online retailer, has previously launched physical pop-up stores in both London and New York to give its consumers a chance to touch and feel its products. This is not a tactic reserved for big or established brand. We’ve enjoyed significant successes in reaching key fashion influencers and commentators through the use of concept stores at fashion shows in New York and Paris.
Retail in 2016 has gone full circle. From generations of high street retailers moving online at the beginning of the 21st century to the online retailers now branching out on to the high street, the last 16 years have seen more change that the previous 100.
Small business owners today therefore face a new challenge in balancing their bricks (physical presence) and their clicks (online presence) to create a more all-encompassing retail experience that satisfies their customers want of speed and efficiency but also their desire for a more concrete and individualised experience.
By Andrew Jennings, CEO, Larsson & Jennings