The local High Street was once a bustling meeting ground for the community. Now, many have become a parade of boarded up shop fronts, 1 in 6 shops in the North[note] Kadhim Shubber, “Demolish empty UK shops, say retail experts”, Financial Times, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/345398c0-abb5-11e4-8070-00144feab7de.html#axzz3RSB09LJ4 [04/02/2015] [/note] of the UK lay vacant and we are left with the guilt of having lost an important part of our society. Despite the bricks and mortar disappearing, the spirit of the local shops still remain – and they’re thriving. For as our communities have become virtual, so to have our High Streets.
During the financial crisis, it was make or break for our High Street stores. We saw some well known giants fall, and a plethora of charity shops take over their vacant plots. Many are blaming the online revolution, coupled with increasingly high business rates for the death of the British High Street – but could it just be that we are simply evolving?
How many of us hit the sales on boxing day from the comfort of our own homes? Demands on our time feel like they’re ever increasing, and if we can order our groceries whilst sat on the bus, we eagerly take those few precious minutes back. House of Fraser saw the reality of this with a 31% growth in online sales over the 2014 Christmas period, compared to a mere 4.2% increase in physical store sales in the same period.[note] Naomi Rovnick and Claer Barrett, “Online shopping brings cheer to House of Fraser sales figures”, Financial times, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ad0a9136-9578-11e4-b3a6-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz3RSB09LJ4 [06/01/2015] [/note] There’s no waiting for the shops to open and no carrying heavy bags back to the car. We are now a nation of convenience consumers, and we can’t get enough.
With the election looming, all the main parties are talking about breathing new life into British High streets – but it’s going to take more than a little revamp. For all the talk of supporting small businesses, the underlying issue is that people would rather purchase certain items online, then walk up and down the aisles trying to remember what it was they didn’t put on the list. We are becoming impatient, and eCommerce provides a quick and convenient alternative, that often gives us more value for money then High Street retailers.
Yet all is not lost for the local High Street. Even at their death knell, the shops are to fight back, and turning to technology to drive their businesses forward. They’re offering services like ‘Click and collect’, augmented reality, and locational based apps to serve targeted promotional offers right into the palm of your hand. They’re popping up everywhere and reminding us that the high street shops is still alive, and they’re enticing us in. The heavyweight retailer, Next is a good example of how the High Street is fighting back with an increase of 22.6% to their pre-tax physical store sales, their adapting business plan for their High Street stores is proving popular.[note] Martin Flanagan, “Next insists ‘death’ of high street overdone”, The Scotsman, http://www.scotsman.com/business/retail/next-insists-death-of-the-high-street-overdone-1-3539108, [12/09/2014] [/note]
There is no doubt that 2015 will see further growth from the eCommerce industry, it is estimated by the CRR that online retailers in Europe are expanding 14.2 times faster than conventional outlets, and this will lead to more competition for online retailers.[note] “Online retailing: Britain, Europe, US and Canada 2015”, Centre for Retail Research, http://www.retailresearch.org/onlineretailing.php [accessed 11/02/2015] [/note] The customer service of the past will translate into a slick online user experience, and the ones who get it right will prosper. The eCommerce giants will almost certainly increase digital ad spend to stay ahead of the competition, and this year will test how the varying use of advertising will change the game for online retailers.
Perhaps we are all a little less neighbourly now, but as our communities grow to become global, customers can be too. Some may still have a little nostalgia for the past. The bell above the shop door has been silenced, and replaced by the steady “tap tap tap” of fingers on keys – but those key’s now take us to a global high street, and a global community, where we can get whatever we want with a click of a button. We’re not going to go back now.