The Centre for Retail Research released an alarming statistic in the UK earlier this week – one in five high street shops could close by 2018 due to online shopping. In the UK, we are a nation of shop-keepers, so I thought I should pose the question of whether the high street and the internet can flourish together.
I hate to say it, but I feel like I am part of the problem – if I am able to get something online, then I will do so because unfortunately I don’t have the time to go to my local high street when the shops are open.
The issues facing retail (particularly independent retail) are well documented – excessive council parking charges, restrictive planning regulations and the rise of e-commerce. But the high street needs to sweat the benefits that the internet cannot bring. Personalised service is something that the internet lacks, and retail has a leisure experience should be a focus – tying in events and entertainment will drive footfall, and increase business.
And of course, high street outlets of any size should have an integrated approach. John Lewis offers a service where you can order the night before and pick up your order at noon the following day (even on a Sunday), a turn around that the internet alone would struggle to beat. KFC offered an online coupon that could be used in store and trended on Twitter all day.
But what about small businesses? Email and social media do cost time, but not money (for small audiences anyway), and bigger stores should develop highly polished ecommerce channels – failure to do so will put them in the same category as HMV and Jessops.
The high street has thrived for years because it focused on the needs of their consumers, and the internet has done exactly that by saving people time and money – all high street needs to do is focus on what the internet cannot deliver and its future will be rosy.