Thoughts 18.01.13

The future of the high street…is online

It would be an understatement to claim the British high street has been looking a little wobbly as of late. Wednesday’s announcement that Blockbuster has gone into administration is the latest in a growing list of retailers collapsing, coming a mere 24 hours after HMV announced their descent into administration. Jessops, JJB Sports, Comet, Clinton Cards and Game are just some of the others that have lost their legs in the last 12 months.

As you would expect, the continuing rise of online retailing and the change in our shopping behaviour has a huge part to play in this. And it’s no coincidence that most of the high street brands that have gone down recently had failed to deliver a compelling online experience. With the change in our shopping behaviour in the last decade, it’s no longer enough for high street retailers to just be high street retailers anymore. Brands that don’t embrace online in earnest, to drive engagement and add value, will inevitably struggle.

The whole thing is reminiscent of the ‘print vs online’ discussion that’s been a part of the publishing world ever since the invention of the internet. With time, it’s become apparent that it’s less a case of print vs online, and more a case of print & online. This logic applies to physical vs online retailing too. Although one can exist without the other, the latest signs from the high street are that it’s not a good idea to try.

Whilst online brands can be successful without a physical presence, this is a one-way deal. High street retailers have to have a digital counterpart: it’s no longer a bonus, it’s a necessity. Where the high street trumps the internet however is where a 360 experience is crucial to the sell. If the high street is to remain in good health, it has provide more value than ever. It’s not enough to simply place products on shelves – it has to become an experience. We want to interact with products, play them, test them, find out more about them, and enjoy the process of doing so. Just like drinking coffee has become an experience, and browsing sportswear in Niketown has become an experience, buying camera equipment or music should be the same. If a bricks and mortar retailer isn’t adding any more value than an online one, and not competing with the online retailer either, then why is it there?

Moral of the high street story? The future of the high street…is online.