At the risk of repeating ourselves, these are nervy times, not just for retail but for the world in general. Once easy assumptions – that the European Union would continue to flourish and that the USA would always favour free trade over protectionism – no longer hold true.
Turning directly to retail, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that even early adopters of multichannel strategies are struggling, notably in the UK. Shops, it seems, are a cost too far in a world where it’s become far easier for consumers to find goods and services online.
Yet proclaiming the inevitable death of the high street and the shopping centre is, we would argue, an over-simplification. Instead, what’s more likely to be happening is that we’re witnessing a continued shakeout of the retail sector that will reshape our town and city centres.
In this context, just because many pureplays are suspicious of the fixed costs of shops, it doesn’t mean they’re not still looking at ways to have a presence out in the real world. Companies may conclude it’s as simple as investing in pop-up shops, concessions or lockers where customers can pick up goods. At the other end of the scale, there’s the reimagining of retail space represented by Amazon’s forays offline.
The point is that we’re not looking at a world where shopping becomes a digital-only affair, but one where businesses constantly have to review their approaches and the balance between digital and the real world. Here lies one reason why the IREU Top500 is such a valuable tool for those wanting to assess how their own companies are doing. Because our research over six Performance Dimensions qualitatively assesses retailers, it shows how prepared they are for the changing and challenging environment we describe above – as well as offering a snapshot of current operations.
In the year ahead, we’ll continue to broaden our explorations of retail practice beyond the UK and Europe, focusing too on the Australian market. As always, we’re interested in how we can extend our research and improve the quality of our findings. Get in touch with your ideas and potential datasets via email@example.com or tweet @etail using #IREU500.