For over a decade, eCommerce has enjoyed a meteoric rise with a rapidly growing number of consumers choosing to shop online. Statista figures show that online sales could double again by 2023, and there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has further shifted the balance in favour of arm’s length dealings between consumers and retailers.
Yet despite all the challenges that face high street businesses, there is undeniably still a place for physical shops. No matter how loud and omnipresent the eCommerce giants become, there will always be a place for physical stores – even if their focus changes to meet customer demand.
To prove the case for high street retail and to show why it is right to be optimistic, here are five reasons why physical shopping is here to stay.
1. Personal interaction is paramount
eCommerce may be highly efficient, and it may make shopping incredibly simple – but that does not totally negate the need for human contact. With the UK having spent months at home under the COVID-19 lockdowns, the importance of personal interaction has never been clearer.
The high street gives people the opportunity to interact with others – even if it is only with a shop assistant when they are at the checkout. In a world where we spend so much of our time online, these fleeting occasions of interpersonal contact are truly valuable, and it is one of the primary reasons why physical retail will never completely die.
2. Easy and instantaneous access to products
Even with the launch of same-day delivery services by the likes of Amazon, there is little that could be more simplistic than simply walking into a shop to pick up the products you need. Delivery speeds might have become much faster over the course of the past few years, but they are certainly no match for a five-minute jaunt to the shops where you can pick up goods from several providers without having to place an equal number of separate orders.
Simply put, high street shopping is a known quantity, and it is the easiest way to get products as and when you need them. For that reason, it will always have a place in the retail industry.
3. Brand experience still counts for a lot
Sales figures at physical outlets may be in decline, but there are plenty of other reasons why consumers visit the high street. Brand experience is a huge consideration for retailers since it plays into creating a relationship with consumers and fostering a sense of loyalty and the chance of repeat custom.
For this reason, you can expect to see retail stores shift their priorities over the years to come. Even if they are not peddling as many products lines or focussing on the volume of sales, consumers will still visit to experience and connect with the brands they love. Quality has made a comeback, and as the public become more socially conscious, they will want to get to know businesses better before rewarding them with their patronage.
4. Consumers like to see products for themselves
Ask any online shopping sceptic why they prefer going to stores in person, and you will probably hear some variation of – “I want to see the things for myself.” Even though you can return many products purchased online if it turns out they are not quite right for you, it is far less complicated to go into a physical shop and make your mind up before you commit to spending any money.
As an aside, high street stores are arguably the best venues in which to sell high and low-value items. Consumers do not typically want to drop considerable money on an expensive product before they have seen it, whilst it makes little sense to pay delivery charges for very small inexpensive items. For that reason, high street retail has the market cornered at both ends leaving eCommerce sites to pick up the middle ground.
5. Multi-channel is becoming omnichannel
It might sound like jargon, but it is the future of retail. Whereas in the past businesses might have looked to syphon their sales through different sales channels – online and in-store – studies have shown that those channels work better as a single unit. What this means is that consumers can have a better and more fluid shopping experience that encompasses both the physical retail environment and time spent on eCommerce sites.
We have already seen a marked increase in click-and-collect offerings throughout the lockdown, and it’s now clear that the interplay between internet sales and the high street shopping experience has the ability to drive sales figures and even to endear customers to brands.
Beyond this, brands that have a physical footprint are generally perceived by the public as more credible than their online-only competitors. For this reason, those companies that can maintain high street stores are likely to continue to do so wherever possible.
Make it safe
We live in challenging times – but what is clear is that physical retail still has a place as a staple of modern commerce. While you should not expect to see a full transition to online sales, the high street is changing, and this trend is likely to continue in perpetuity.
Businesses will always need to adapt to their customers’ needs if they are to survive, and you need only to consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to predict what might be in store over the coming years. High street shops may need to continue with more traditional operations such as stocking high quality till rolls and training checkout staff, but they will need to move with the times too. For one thing, retailers may have to take the leap and start to provide more up to date contactless card readers to ensure that customers can pay whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines. In some cases, firms may even decide to invest in a more powerful eCommerce payment gateway to better facilitate their click-and-collect online ordering services.
It is through these small changes that the face of high street retail will change and shift to suit the needs of consumers. Whilst some things like cash use will undoubtedly fall by the wayside, there is no shame in stores adapting to survive, and for the reasons we have set out, there is still a lot of life left in physical retail.