Has Online Shopping Finally Beaten Brick-and-Mortar Stores?

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Are retail brands in crisis?

Shops are struggling to remain open as footfall numbers steadily decline. Every day there are new reports of major high street chains and retail brands reducing the number of physical stores.

Next are significantly reducing the number of shops after their ‘toughest year in 25 years’, New Look have threatened to cut 60 stores, and Toys R Us are to close down entirely.

The recession of 2009 had a big part to play in the decline of retail brands on the High Street – but it’s not the only factor to blame.

Mobile First, Reality Later:

The rise of clicking, scrolling and ordering at the touch of a button has substantially impacted the number of people going into a store. Shopping, or more specifically purchasing, on the high street is no longer a necessity.

‘80% of shoppers used a mobile phone inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternative store location.’ – OutBox

The internet holds a wealth of information and allows consumers to research competitors to make sure they’re getting the best product for the best price.

Time is Precious (and valuable):  

People feel the need to make every moment count.

Since we measure our time at work in financial value (36 hours a week = X amount of money), we have subconsciously started to think of time as money. Consumers are not willing to spend their spare hours on any old activity. Going shopping has to be worth their time.

Everybody works. Household chores are no longer gendered – including the shop. Online retailers, such as Amazon Prime, are champions fast delivery. Why spend three hours shopping at Toys R Us, when you could get a toy delivered to work and then spend that time playing with your children?

Online Vs. Retail:

Taking the time to go physically shopping requires more energy than simply going online.

By the time you’ve factored in travel, parking, crowds, queues, distractions and stopping off for a coffee – physical shopping is mentally and financially more taxing, with exactly the same pay-out as buying online.

Think about the joy you get from spending ten minutes scrolling through your favourite website – looking at clothes, or home wares or holidays. You take a few moments not thinking about work, you take a break from thinking full stop. Now think about going into a shop and how much thought it requires.

Retail brands need to think about giving their customers a reason to go into the store. They need to be an experience.

The Solution?

Don’t Sell Everything – Be Everything:

As high street shopping becomes more of a leisure and social experience, many shops are partnering up to collaborate with other brands or offering experiences that can’t be used online. Brick and mortar stores need to be what an online store cannot.

Lush opened a flagship store at Tottenham Court Road. Unlike their other stores they offer massages and spa treatments, as well as exclusive products that cannot be bought online. Having these fun extras encourages bath-bomb-aficionados to make the pilgrimage to central London. It’s more than a shopping trip – they’ve harnessed the power of the experience.

“Shops play a really important role in the physical manifestation of our brand. Customers are increasingly looking to not just shop everything, but do everything in our shops.” – Paula Nickolds, John Lewis.

Urban Outfitters will often partner with music brands and DJs to offer immersive live experiences. Rough Trade, the vinyl-record store, has weekly live shows to entice people to spend time (and, of course, money) in their shop. Topshop’s flagship store houses a Bleach hair salon, and tattoo parlour. If it’s on brand to be more than a shop – be more.

Permanent Is No Longer Interesting:

Pop up shops aren’t merely a quick way of selling products – they create experiences. The shops are short-term and feel exclusive, often stocking items you won’t find elsewhere.

Selfridges have recently opened a WWE Wrestlemania department to cater to the surge in popularity of wrestling. This pop up doesn’t necessarily fit with the designer accessories and luxury food hall, but the novelty of a Wrestlemania department has created a social buzz around the department store. Because of the online buzz, Selfridges can offer social currency to anyone who visits the store.

The rise of social means that everywhere we go has to offer social stature. Pop-up experiences are often incredibly photogenic, leaning into the importance of Instagram in the digital age. Pop up stores can offer both cultural and social value by giving consumers content (as well as a product).

Harmonise your channels:

It’s almost impossible for a brand to not exist online in some capacity. If the rise of digital is causing the decline of the high street, then high street retailers need to be utilising the internet and social media platforms to create an omni-channel experience.

Instagram recently rolled out a new photo-tag shopping feature to business accounts, which drives followers to buy featured products online. Yet only 8% of UK brands engaged with the new feature.

Granify reported that 20% of shoppers have used their phone to look up product information whilst in-store. They also wrote that a substantial portion of consumers claimed they are more like to make a in-store purchase if they can access rewards on mobile.

So, if digital experience is important to brick and mortar stores, why aren’t retail brands embracing digital innovation? Retail brands need to channel the same amount of energy into every area of their brand platform to remain consistent. They need to have the same look and feel and positioning across all platforms – TV, digital, in-store and beyond.

So, has online shopping finally beaten brick and mortar stores?

Not quite yet! There is still a place for retail brands to exist physically, but times have changed. The high street cannot rely on having everything in one place to continue.

There’s an opportunity for brands to reinvent their retail estates, what they are selling and how they’re selling it. In order to stand tall as a brick and mortar store, retail brands have to figure out what it is their spaces stand for and what added benefit they can provide over and above the online shopping experience.

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