Securing the Future of High Street Retail

Week in, week out it seems we read about another retailer that has bitten the dust. High streets are becoming emptier – with 10% of shops empty, and even major stores like Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser closing locations, can UK high streets survive?

eCommerce is often blamed for the downturn of the high street. Lower overheads mean that eCommerce retailers can provide lower prices for customers – and who hasn’t seen an item while shopping and then searched for a better price online? And with eCommerce sales projected to exceed €200 billion in 2019, up by almost 15% on last year, it’s clear that customers are in fact still spending.

Fortunately for retailers, it’s not all doom and gloom. While many have assumed that retailers with bricks and mortar locations must succeed online, there are brands that are proving otherwise. The darling of UK high street retail, Primark, is still growing, even without an eCommerce presence, and 74% of customers say they prefer to shop instore because they can see things and try them before buying. That means there’s still a place for UK high streets to succeed.

Let’s take our cue from Amazon. Undoubtedly the world’s biggest eCommerce presence, Amazon are now moving to high street locations. Sure, they might not have opened stores on every high street yet, but Amazon Lockers are creeping into more and more locations across the UK. The cashless Amazon Go store formats are gradually creeping into American cities, and surely it’s only a matter of time before they get here. But if Amazon see a future for high streets, then the future isn’t dismal – it’s just different.

Talking of cashless stores, Sainsbury’s are also increasing their use of technology to work with consumer demands. They launched their first checkout-free store in April, using mobile technology to process payments. The Holborn Circus store has been very successful – around 82% of transactions are completed without cash. With this success, Sainsbury’s have said that they’ll be using the information gained from this location to help them develop this store format and extend the programme further.

Like we said, it’s all about adapting to consumer habits. Customers expect an omnichannel experience, and that means using technology to put the customer first. Oasis, the UK high street fashion retailer are taking their mobile experience in-store. Their sales advisors are armed with iPads, allowing them to find exact stock levels. If the store is out of stock of an item, the advisors can take an order, and payment on the iPad to be delivered to customers directly. Further, the iPads can take payments for in-store purchases too, helping the store manage queuing at the checkout at peak times. With customers also using the website and mobile app (and click and collect in-store available), it’s obvious that Oasis have thought carefully about their target customer and how they want to shop.

Retailers need to look to the retail giants, but unfortunately, there’s definitely not a universal strategy that can be applied to every business. Some eCommerce businesses can grow with high street locations – some high street businesses might do better to focus their efforts online.

Advice for bricks and mortar retailers

  1. Retailers that are not yet online, but are in a physical location are advised to create an online presence – ideally with eCommerce – as soon as possible to maximise profits.
  2. Choose a great multichannel solution that connects to your EPOS solution.
  3. Consider DropShipping directly to customers from your supplier, but paid for in store – this extends product offerings and means lower prices, because overheads are lower.
  4. Keep customer service levels high – happy customers mean increased footfall, and profits.
  5. If there is space in your store, adding click and collect or an Amazon locker can increase footfall.

Advice for eCommerce retailers

  1. Take your first step into high street retail by partnering with businesses with retail outlets.
  2. Create click and collect arrangements.
  3. Suppliers can create DropShipping arrangements to increase sales.
  4. Consider taking on small units in strategically chosen locations – use order data to find out where, geographically, your customers are.

Not all our advice will be applicable to all businesses – this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. And we’ve thought about the high street here, but there’s a lot more technology being developed that retailers both on and offline should keep a careful watch on. Even if we just consider Amazon’s developments, there is the Transparency anti-counterfeiting programme, drone delivery, in-home delivery without a resident’s presence, ordering via Alexa – and that’s before we look at what else is being developed by other major industry players.

High street retail isn’t dead – it’s just not the same beast we used to know. To survive, retailers need to adapt – and that eCommerce isn’t the enemy – in fact, it can be quite the opposite. With careful use of technology, and partnerships, retailers can ensure customers continue to visit the high street for years to come – there’ll just be changes to why they visit.

About the Author

Tejas Dave, Founder and CEO of eBusiness Guru and Avasam, has been helping eCommerce businesses worldwide since 2010. Avasam is a platform that allows wholesalers and sellers to collaborate. Tejas is revolutionising the shipping industry and creating a new level of financial stability with the aim of creating 5,000+ jobs within the UK. Tejas is using technology and automation to provide solutions to e commerce challenges by removing the limitations that are currently placed on what and where people can sell. More information is available at www.avasam.com.

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