When Mary Portas published her government-commissioned report on the British high street in December 2011, there was some criticism from the ecommerce community that TV’s ‘Queen of Shops’ didn’t particularly seem to understand the importance of online retail. However, nobody would doubt she understands real-world stores. In this context the The Portas Review’s suggestion that we need to “put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning” is one to be taken seriously.
But how do we go about achieving this? Perhaps surprisingly, through researching this supplement, we’ve become more convinced than ever that bringing techniques usually associated with the internet into the bricks-and-mortar store, as part of an overall cross-channel retail strategy, has to be the way forward. For any retailers looking for a quick fix here, we should emphasise there’s no right answer as to how to do this. What works for one retailer may not work for another. What’s cost-effective for a luxury brand, for example, may not be cost-effective for the mass market. Variables such as the location of a store or its size may have an effect on what works.
Nevertheless, none of this detracts from a key central point: the ways in which we shop and our expectations of the shopping experience are changing. In particular here, as Portas appears to suggest, real-world shopping is going to have to be a lot more fun in the future. After all, if the high street isn’t an enjoyable place to visit in itself, why bother to go at all? As Jonny Freeman of i2Media Research points out, the transactional part of shopping is becoming detached from location. Providing you know exactly what you want and you have the necessary connectivity, you can just as easily buy a tablet device via a smartphone as in a store.
However, the smartphone won’t also sell you a cup of coffee, provide a play area for the kids and, unless you happen to be walking past a cinema, be located handily close to a spot where you can take in the latest Hollywood blockbuster or a French arthouse flick while munching overpriced pick’n’mix. In short, the high street has its distinct own advantages over the digital world, which in turn has its own distinct strengths. But those retailers that can combine the best of both worlds in new and imaginative ways, we’d contend, will be the ones that win out in the future.
We hope you’ve found this supplement useful and informative.
Each of Internet Retailing’s regular supplements explores questions and issues facing retailers today. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for future themes at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chloe Rigby and Jonathan Wright