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Is there a future for high-street retail?


Oct 5, 2017 #Business

What’s happening to the UK retail industry? With favourite shops constantly closing and others having to rely on slashing prices further and further to stay afloat, it seems that a huge change is on the horizon.  

It’s not news that the web has revolutionised the world of shopping. Why go out to buy things when you can do it sitting on your sofas? Today, shopping online applies to all sectors of the industry, but fashion especially has a significant presence in the digital world, accounting for almost one third of online purchases in the UK.

Trilogy Stores, a leading denim boutique, looks at why business owners should seriously consider moving into the digital market to survive and what could happen if they don’t.

The retail industry in 2017

While online shopping sales are gong thorough the roof, footfall and conversions in high-street stores are plummeting. In the last year, about 87% of UK consumers have bought at least one product online. Combine this with the statistic that online sales increased 21% in 2016, and are predicted to rise by 30% by the end of 2017, and you have a problem on your hands if you’re shop-based. Consumer buying patterns have shifted a great deal. Consumers are choosing to shop in their spare time, usually on an evening or during the night, making it difficult for retail high street stores to compete with their limited shopping hours.

It’s not just consumer attitudes that are changing. Online retailers are becoming tech-savvy or getting agencies in to make the shopping experience as easy as possible — with free returns, size guides, fast deliveries, and cheap prices. The need to ‘try before you buy’ was once the key weapon in the arsenal of the high-street shop, but this necessity seems to have become less and less important to shoppers, which is having ramifications on the success of high street stores.  

Financially, it costs much less to exist online. Start-up and running costs of offline retail are significantly more than online, which is just another reason for emerging businesses to head straight for the web — increasing the competition further and making it even more important for high-street shops to get digitalised.

Harnessing social media

Social media has transformed how we look at and think about fashion. It has the power to change the course of clothing trends and is the lifeblood of many online retailers. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become essential marketing tools for fashion retailers. Evolving from catwalk shows and big shop window displays, retailers now capitalise via their social media profiles.

With social media, a company can spread brand awareness and promote products to millions of potential customers with a single click. The fashion industry is extremely competitive, and social media apps have provided a platform to help brands stand out from their competitors. Instagram has more than 700 million active monthly users, with over 40 billion photos shared. The app has become a platform for celebrities and public figures, many of which are used by brands to endorse a product and boost its exposure and potential success.

Using a celebrity endorsement encourages a certain level of user engagement, but how does this work? One example is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who is the face of denim designer, PAIGE jeans. She has over 7.6 million followers, which means the brand is guaranteed exposure to those 7.6 million followers with every brand-tagged picture that Rosie posts on her Instagram account. Similarly, Kendall Jenner has more than 80 million followers on her Instagram account and can offer huge exposure to around this number of potential customers to a sponsored brand. This then encourages users to redirect to the brand’s profile or website – if one picture can reach millions of people, then isn’t that more successful than a shop window display?

Making it easier for customers

Basically, if it’s not quick and easy, customers are looking for an alternative. When it comes to customer service, sending queries and complaints on Twitter has increased by 250% in the last two years. But is social media flawless?

In a recent survey, around 32% of respondents said that phone and face-to-face communication is the most frustrating customer service channel. Taking this into account, it’s no surprise that social media has become one of the most popular ways for consumers and companies to communicate. We don’t want to wait in a queue or have to sit on hold over the phone. Social media provides a lightning-quick platform for customer communication, and with the opportunity to offer quicker responses, this could equal a greater inclination for customer spend.

What can digital really do for business?

What’s the best change you can make to ensure your high-street shop’s success? Go digital. And if you already have an online presence, invest in making it the best it can be. Many fashion retailers in today’s market have proven that there is no longer a need for a physical high street store to be successful in the industry. Many of these use e-commerce websites and social media apps to drive business – with big high street names following in their footsteps and favouring digital platforms over high street stores.

There’s clearly great potential in digital. Customers appreciate online shopping (i.e. buying items whenever they like from the comfort of home or the convenience of their lunch break). But what if your company isn’t ready to go fully digital? Then at least try social media, where you get free advertising and a global platform to show the world what you have to offer.

Some might not want to admit it, but the future is digital for the retail industry. With many big brands already marking their territory online, smaller brands need to consider the web if they are to stay in the game. High street retail, made with bricks and mortar, only looks set to deteriorate further. For high street brands to remain, maybe it’s time to take the plunge and secure their presence in the digital world.

By Emily