A new report from PwC suggests that almost 1,000 shops disappeared from the British High Street last year. That’s three times the number of stores that vanished in 2013. What is going on?
Fewer customers are venturing out into the High Street is the simple answer. Data from the British Retail Consortium shows that High Street shoppers declined by 3.9% last March – compared to last year – and shopping centres are down 3.7%.
This sounds like online shopping is killing the High Street, but data from a Techcrunch survey suggests that 78% of shoppers prefer to go to real shops rather than buying online. If the shopping apocalypse we all predicted in the nineties has not arrived then how come fewer shoppers are really out there shopping?
Terry Hunter, the UK MD at ecommerce specialists Astound Commerce believes that the answer lies somewhere in the confused message many brands are sending out with their incomplete omnichannel offering. Talking to Information Age magazine Hunter aid:
“Although online shopping meets certain needs, a brand’s physical outlets serve a different purpose,’ says Hunter. ‘A store is somewhere for consumers to have a conversation about a product line. Yet more importantly it’s also an expedient location to easily return an unwanted item or resolve an issue immediately – a level of convenience that simply cannot be found online.”
Brands that don’t integrate their stores into their online offer are creating a problem. Some shoppers strongly prefer to shop online. Some prefer to shop online, but will always visit a store to check products in person first. Some usually prefer the store, but will often use the online channel to do product research. Somehow the online experience and the store experience need to connect so that all these shoppers feel served equally well.
The problem comes, for example, when shoppers can see online deals that are not reflected in-store. If the brand creates the impression that the online channel and stores are competing with each other then many customers will feel confused, or cheated, and will migrate to other brands.
I believe there is a big change taking place on the High Street today and brands can only function effectively if their online and in-store offers are completely synchronised so I agree with much of the analysis suggested by Hunter. Customers are splitting in their preferred styles of shopping and brands need to acknowledge this and serve all equally well. The omnichannel needs to become a reality.