Retailers have had a tough time in the past few years – some of which has been of their own making – but they don’t deserve today’s news saying that one in five shops will close soon because of the Internet. According to a new study, the amount of shopping we do online is set to double, putting bricks and mortar retailers out of business.
Given that the recession itself has closed an average of one in five High Street shops, another one in five disappearing will decimate towns and cities across the nation. Can you imagine your local town with only about half the shops it has now? That’s the kind of future being predicted.
There is little doubt that online shopping is having an impact on traditional retail. But much of that is because of the intransigence of old-fashioned retailers and their lack of willingness to respond to the rapid changes going on. HMV and Jessops are but two examples of old-style thinking amongst retailers; their collapse partly came about because they were simply too slow to respond to the online world.
Bookshops are also proving they are not keeping up with the impact of online shops. For instance, how long does it take you to find a book on Amazon? Probably just a handful of seconds. How long does it take to find someone to help you find the same book in a retail store and then find that book? Several minutes. We are used to seconds, but the bricks and mortar bookshops are giving us minutes. The technology to allow us to find books in seconds in a bricks and mortar stores already exists and has existed for decades – warehouses use it. There is no reason why book retailers can’t use such technology – it’s just that they are either unwilling to do so, or move at such a snail’s pace they are planning to introduce the technologies in their next ten year plan. Ho hum.
Many retailers, though, have seen the writing on the wall and are responding. Indeed, retailers now dominate the world’s social media brands, suggesting that they are getting to grips with the threat of the online world and integrating it much more into their activities.
In my forthcoming book, Click.ology, I suggest a way out for embattled retailers and that is to make their real world stores much more akin to the online experience we are now used to with Internet stores. Having search options, choosing delivery/collection methods and seeing what our friends bought in that store are all what people are used to online and having such features available in bricks and mortar stores is what will bring people out of their homes and back down the High Street.
After all, online shopping is lonely. Go into your local High Street and you rarely see people shopping alone – most people shop with other people. It is a social activity. The High Street has been on its last legs not so much because of the Internet, but because shops have let the coffee houses have all the social activity. Our local Debenhams closed its coffee shop, but why? To make more room for men’s shirts. That area of the store is now largely devoid of people – fewer people because they cannot really socialise around a display of 16 inch collars. With the coffee shop in place, they had a reason to be in the store.
Retail is a leisure activity for the most part and the best retailers know this and make their stores fun and exciting with social features. All they need to do is add in some new technology social features, with augmented reality for instance, and they will get people back to the High Street.
The High Street has considerable potential – it will only die if the people running retail fail to respond and do what is possible. HMV and Jessops were early warning signals – let’s hope the rest of the High Street has taken note. If they respond, we’ll enjoy the dual success of online and offline retail. The signs are they are beginning to respond. But is it too little, too late?