Is High Street Shopping Dead?

If one believes everything one sees in the news, the world as we know it, from the family unit to the very papers the stories are written in, is changing beyond recognition. Rumours of demise seem to be focusing on the high street and the humble shop.

The demise of HMV, a well known well established “household” name in the UK, has set tongues wagging about who is next and what the future of the high street might hold. The causes of the decline in this case are many and complex but what does the future hold for retail, both online and in store, and how can we in the enterprise learn from others mistakes to avoid our own obituary?

As I have said right now everything we know and take for granted seems to be changing a rate of knots and the crux of this change lies in technology. Back in 1999 Larry Ellison warned us all that “the internet changes everything” and boy did it; the way we work, the way we consume, the way we shop and ultimately the way we live.

It’s something we all take for granted today, the ability to find out anything, order anything and do anything via the Internet. I would argue though that was only stage one, stage two came with the smart mobile device. Now we can barely function without our mobiles. Mobile Internet access has become such a normal part of our daily lives that there are even clinics set up for addiction for those who cannot put their devices down.

This move toward information anywhere and everywhere has altered, and will continue to alter, the way we shop. Long gone are the days when we would pick up the yellow pages or phone book to find a product or store or when we would thrall through aisle after aisle to find the product we needed. Now the first port of call for the vast majority of us is our mobile or our social media contacts.

Some have suggested that this move toward mobility and online shopping means the inevitable death of the high street and the brand names we associate with it. With one in six shops in the UK sitting empty there is a temptation to agree. However, I believe that this trend only sorts the weak from the strong and, like those of us in the enterprise, the retailers who ignore m-commerce and e-commerce do so at their own peril. A quick look at the retail success stories of the past year can teach us a lot.

Amazon, being held to blame for the downfall of everyone from Jessops to HMV Amazon, is going from strength to strength where. In many cases users are going so far as to bypass the search engine and go straight to Amazon to search for products.

According to ComScore, Amazon search queries are up 73 percent in the last year alone. The key to Amazon’s success has to be the overall user experience from order, to delivery, to return and customer reviews. Amazon has focused on the online. With no high street presence at all it seems the antithesis of all that we once knew when it comes to the shopping experience.

At the other end of the spectrum we have John Lewis, a traditional department store who seem to have come back from the brink at a time when budgets are tight oddly consumers seem willing to pay a premium for reputation, reliability and the physical shopping experience. Under the promise of “never knowingly undersold” John Lewis has thrived, realising some people still like to to see before they buy. And while they will research online, they will ultimately buy in store from John Lewis.

Finally somewhere smack bang in the middle, with both online and physical presences, we have Argos who recently reported a great success with the firm’s “check and reserve” ordering service growing its share of sales from 28% to 31% over the last four months of 2012.

I think what these cases suggest is that there will continue to be a high street and that there remains a market for every approach to retail, if done well. Those that know their market and serve them well will continue to thrive. The point is to succeed we must treat online shopping, and especially mobile shopping, as just another channel of sales.

This channel does require its own enhancements and improvements such as price matching, price guarantee, return policy, reserve and collect but this new channel can bring significant benefits but more importantly it can co-exist with existing stores and high street presence rather than competing with it. Online and mobile should be seen as a new opportunity rather than a threat.

So yes, the high street may change, and yes companies will come and go. But with a strong strategy that embraces opportunities rather than fearing them, retailers can survive and even thrive.

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David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.