How eCommerce can save the high street
Can the high street be saved?
The high street at the moment is a realm of chaos and uncertainty, with many of the big names like Woolworths, Maplin and Toys R Us no longer with us. Empty shops are increasingly becoming part of the landscape in many shopping centres and town streets and this is shown in the latest research from PwC which reveals a record 2,481 stores disappeared from the top 500 high streets in the UK, an increase of 40% from 2017!
All too often, the eCommerce sector finds itself in the role of culprit for this decline. The simplicity and convenience of being able to shop in your living room and have it delivered to your door, often the next day or even the same day, is a very attractive combination to the average shopper. Combine this with the very competitive pricing they can offer because of the reduced overheads they are able to have because they’re not paying rent on a number of stores, and you can see the advantage that the eCommerce sector is able to leverage.
All this doesn’t necessarily mean that the death of the high street is inevitable though. After all, there are a number of distinct benefits to being able to offer the personal touch to your customers and this can only be done at it’s best in a high street store.
It’s perhaps significant that the worlds best known eCommerce retailer, Amazon, recognises the importance of a physical shopping experience. They have developed Amazon Go which allows customers to simply walk into a shop, take what they want and then walk out again. Their innovative use of technology to speed up and improve the customer experience is something that other stores can learn from and adapt. Sainsbury’s has already taken this on board and launched the first till free shop in the UK.
The future of the high street could be boosted if a partnership were formed with an eCommerce business for mutual benefit. By working together and focussing on certain areas of the business, the two enterprises can work together to improve the overall shopping experience by making it more productive and improving customer satisfaction.
One area that this would work well is customer returns. More than 20% of online purchases are returned which is double that experienced by high street retailers. On top of that, research shows that up to 74% of consumers are likely to move to a new retail outlet if they have a bad experience returning their purchase. With this in mind, it is extremely important for eCommerce business owners to make sure that it is as easy as possible for customers to return unwanted goods if they want to retain their business.
This is where a partnership with a high street location becomes attractive as it would offer a location for customers to easily and conveniently return their unwanted goods. The high street location would be perfect for safe and secure collections and returns, with reduced costs of returns for the eCommerce retailer, and increased footfall and sales for the high street outlet. There’s already been a significant growth in the popularity of click and collect which, according to GlobalData, is set to see an increase of around 45.8% in the UK over the next five years. In-store lockers could be used to allow customers to collect their purchases on the high street. This would allow shoppers to collect their purchases from a secure location that’s convenient to them, perhaps in their lunch break. Just like high street returns, the increase in footfall significantly improves the likelihood of greater sales for the high street shop.
Asda has recognised the potential of this scenario with it’s ‘toyou’ service. Third party online retailers that have a partnership with Asda are able to arrange deliveries and returns with any of Asda’s stores.
High street retailers can learn a few lessons from the larger eCommerce retailers and increase the range of their produce. As consumers get used to the idea of getting all of their shopping from one location, an increase in the range of items stocked is a logical step. One possible way of doing this is to work with other high street retailers in different sectors to share stock. This would allow each outlet to offer greater choice and value to their customers which could be sold via in-store epos pints or online as well, with the option to either deliver or be collected in-store.
Moving forward, the high street should work together with eCommerce outlets to grow and prosper. Both have complementary strengths that can be utilised for mutual benefit in the fast developing retail world. Both need to realise the benefits of such a partnership, something Asda and it’s ‘toyou’ partners are already benefitting from. Further competition from the high street could also come from mutual neighbour partnerships which would allow retailers to offer serious competition for a purely eCommerce business.
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