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GUEST COMMENT High Street: Dead or Due for a Makeover?

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Amazon, Boohoo and ASOS are called out as the top culprits when it comes to the death of the UK High Street. The recent acquisitions of brands such as Topshop and Warehouse add weight to the charges. Digital retailers like ASOS plan to ditch the large footfall stores once beloved of customers, instead adding stock to their online-only arsenal. But are we really witnessing the end of the road for bricks and mortar? Not likely. Customers still enjoy going to shops, or they will do once lockdown eases.  The issue is that customer expectation has changed but high street brands haven’t kept up. 

Over the coming years, we will see digitally native retailers reinvent the high street experience in a way that direct-to-consumer brands have failed to do. In part, they will succeed because of the vast amount of resources they have at their disposal. But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that they understand customer expectations and know how to deliver against it.

A new age of customer expectation

It’s no secret that the demands of customers have changed. Amazon has set the tone when it comes to offering a seamless experience, from how products are displayed and found to simple payment and delivery. Any friction in the customer journey and consumers are quick to look elsewhere. This is why Topshop and Oasis floundered. They didn’t evolve with what customers expected, leaving shoppers flocking to the brands and retailers that did. 

ASOS is a prime example of a retailer that gets it right. It has always been on the cutting edge of retail technology, offering new experiences before others. One popular advancement is allowing customers to search for products via image, putting the product experience at the heart of the shopper journey. However, other innovations include implementing Klarna payments and offering ‘try before you buy’. Essentially, it preempts what customers want and gives it to them. And it pays off. ASOS’ end of year financial results cemented a strong 2020 with a 329% climb in profits

These tech-first companies bossing retail are the ring leaders when it comes to digital. They have rewritten the rulebook and made the digital shelf core to the way we shop; providing an online experience that direct to consumer brands cannot keep up with. But what does this mean for the High Street? 

The future of the High Street

Digitally native retailers not only have a lion share of the market, but they are also in a prime position to bring the physical and digital shelves together. High Street is not on its deathbed but it is due an overhaul, which will be provided by the likes of Amazon, ASOS and Boohoo. These customer-centric retailers will create more compelling experiences then brands can offer alone, meaning direct to consumer brands will need to partner to retain relevance.

Amazon Go stores have reshaped the shopping experience and it won’t be long before ASOS and Boohoo follow suit. They won’t repeat the mistakes of Missguided when it  turned to bricks and mortar. Instead we will see these businesses take what they have learned about customer expectation online and apply it to physical stores, merging the worlds of online and offline.

For example, customers love information and online can deliver this without limits. Consumers increasingly want to know how products are made and their sustainability credentials. By introducing an app-based digital concierge, they can deliver this insight in-store; creating the same  product experience that shoppers are accustomed to online. Whatsmore, shoppers could use this app system to see what stock is available. If what they want isn’t in stock they can order through the app directly to their homes. 

What does this mean for traditional brands? 

We are already seeing traditional brands adapt. M&S has signed deals with clothing labels such as Phase Eight and Joules and introduced on-the-spot payments. All of these are clear signs that it is shifting from a direct-to-consumer brand and focusing on becoming a wider retail with customer experience at its core. Other brands should follow suit or risk being left behind. Primark, with its insistence on avoiding online, is failing to adapt and will not be around after the next five years. 

Brands ultimately need to think about how to bring the digital shelf that consumers love in-store in order to give a seamless experience. But they will struggle to battle digital-first retailers who already have the insight and technology infrastructure to lead in this space. Instead, brands should look to them as partners; digital and soon-to-be physical platforms to experiment on and learn from. The brands that win, will be the ones that work with these retailers and capitalise on their resources and brand awareness. 

The likes of ASOS, Boohoo and Amazon are not only leading the charge when it comes to ecommerce but they are in a prime position to make the High Street great again.  We are not witnessing the death of the High Street, we are about to witness its rebirth.


Christian Hassold, VP of EMEA, Salsify

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