The obituaries have been coming in for some time and the facts appear to be all too clear: thanks to the continuing explosion in online retail, the high street shop is dead.
However, before shop owners sell up and retreat to the nearest Benedictine monastery or convent to spend the rest of their days in quiet contemplation, we’d like to suggest that rumours of the high street shop’s demise are not only premature, but plain wrong.
Yes, it would be farcical to suggest that the rise of online e-commerce retail has had an insignificant impact on physical retail stores. However, if the high street store were on the way out, it is highly unlikely that a business such as Amazon would have invested £10.7bn to purchase the Whole Foods chain of organic food stores, marking a giant stride into traditional retailing for the world’s most powerful e-tailer.
Last year, PwC published research showing that 2,656 UK stores closed in the first half of 2016, with the trend toward online shopping cited as the single biggest cause. This sounds ominous, but if we dig a little deeper, a different picture emerges. When direct marketing firm Credico UK conducted consumer research, it found that the public not only still sees the high street as an indispensable part of their shopping experience, they actively wish to see it protected. Most people prefer to see a product in person, rather than online, before committing to buying it.
People clearly still rate the high street store highly. They enjoy the personalised face-to-face interaction, including the odd joke or smile from a sales assistant. However, much depends on how shop owners adapt to customer needs, such as their response to the desire for contactless or smartphone payment options, and how they keep that precious in-store charm alive.
Dingy, cluttered stores tend not to perform very well. Tidy, well-lit stores experience much more success. Smart point of sale systems and striking retail display systems engage customer attention and focus eyes on what you want to sell. Each of these factors contributes to a growing preference among consumers for in-store experiences that they can’t access online. Try smelling an online cologne, seeing how an online pair of sunglasses fit, or tasting a new online wine.
Stores with physical commodities on display can capitalise on this consumer thirst for experience. They like to feel clothes as well as look at them, and the same applies to items you wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as video games. High street shops account for a massive 77 per cent of games sales. Gamers love seeing game packages in front of them, picking the physical games up, reading the packaging content, and playing with a new console hands-on before they buy. They want to get excited about the physical experience of the product, and stores can deliver that in a way that online virtual stores cannot.
To succeed, it is imperative that you work hard at keeping your store attractive to the eye. Be creative. Get those gaze-pulling retail display systems in place, make sure you’ve invested in effective point of sale systems, create window displays that will excite customers rather than leaving them uninspired. Ultimately, believe in the magnetism of your shop.