How the rise of online shopping is affecting high street shops
Online retail sales reached record levels in 2013 and are expected to rise further as more of us turn to laptops, tablets and smart phones for our shopping.
According to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, online sales rose by 16% to £91 billion in 2013. In 2014 it is predicted they will break the £100 billion mark.
It is also estimated that a quarter of groceries could be sold online by 2030, giving rise to fresh challenges for supermarkets and other grocery retailers. For example – supermarkets will face growing competition from non-food retailers such as Amazon who are developing and encroaching on online grocery sales.
As online retail figures continue to go from strength to strength, there has been a worrying decline in the number of people shopping on the high street. According to the Centre for Retail Research, one in five shops could close over the next five years, with job losses to match. Many local shops will face the threat of closure — not just because of poor sales figures, but also due to high business rates and other overheads.
While the pattern of store closures is expected to rise, there is a growing north-south divide. According to recent figures from the Local Data Company, seven out of ten of the worst-performing town centres were in the North East or North West. Wales is also set to suffer a large number of store closures, while affluent London is predicted to suffer the least. There was good news for Scotland, however, as it saw a slowdown in the rate of store closures.
If the high street has any chance of competing with online retailers, it will need to reflect new ways of shopping. There will need to be more focus on services and leisure facilities such as coffee shops, beauty salons, nail bars and betting shops. Town centres will need to offer cheaper parking and embark on new initiatives to tempt customers back, such as markets, food and drinks festivals and other events. Supermarkets will also need to re-invent themselves by shrinking stores and increasing leisure facilities such as cafes and soft play in order to get customers through the door.
Filling the gap
With advances in technology, online shopping is becoming the norm for many people. What was once confined to a desktop or laptop is now more accessible than ever with the evolution of smart phone and tablet technologies.
However, with greater flexibility and 24-hour shopping available, there are fears that people could run into financial difficulties as it is easy to forget what you spend online. There are also concerns about rising postal costs and the impact they have on people particularly in rural areas.
While online retailers need to maintain competitiveness and invest resources into providing the best possible user experience for their site; the real challenge for high street shops and brands will be to encourage shoppers back to their stores and out-of-town shopping centres. This will require initiative ideas, quality of service, investment and of course, support from town councils.
The online shopping community are savvy when it comes to getting a good deal online thanks to comparison sites, voucher & coupon sites and instant access to loyalty rewards, but they are missing out on the social experience of shopping. This gap is what high street stores must satisfy with ideas of enticing people in such as fun days for kids, DIY or beauty workshops, promotions hosted by celebrities, book signings, car shows – the list of possibilities is endless. And with the backing of local councils, sports grounds, police and chambers of commerce, locally run high street stores could find that offering these activities will add more than just a personal touch to their brand it will get shoppers engaged with what they have to offer and generate repeat business.