By Ratio Law’s Joanna Norris
Just as it appears that market conditions are improving for businesses across the board, there is yet another report about how the retail sector is lagging. A recent paper by Centre for Retail Research predicts that by 2018, the total number of shops in the UK will decrease by 22% with a further 164 major or medium-sized companies likely to face administration, meaning a loss of some 22,600 stores and 140,000 jobs.
It’s long been agreed that the rise of internet shopping has played a huge part in the demise of the high street, but what can bricks and mortar retailers do to not only survive, but thrive?
1: Make it easier for the customer: One of the perks of online shopping is the ability to buy anything, at any time and get it delivered anywhere (all within reason, of course). We’re living increasingly busy lives, meaning many people simply don’t have the time to go to the shops and wander around aimlessly, before leaving empty handed because they can’t find what they want.
But while online shopping allows customers to buy virtually anything quickly and easily, there are often issues when it comes to receiving the goods. A survey by Which? found more than 60 per cent of consumers have faced delivery problems when receiving an online purchase. Whether it’s because people get fed up of coming home to a doormat full of ‘sorry we missed you’ cards, or their workplace has clamped down on getting personal parcels delivered to the office, consumers want more control and flexibility when it comes to accessing their purchases.
This is why services like Click and Collect have soared in popularity over the last couple of years. And it’s not just a service that traditional bricks & mortars are offering, online retailers are getting in on the action too. For example, Amazon has placed lockers in a number of retail units across the country, enabling customers to collect their purchases at a time and location that suits them.
Although Click and Collect services provide increased convenience for consumers, they are not a panacea and there are a number of potential issues retailers need to consider if they decide to provide access to the service. For example, do they have the space available not only to hold the stock, but to also cater for the number of customers coming to collect items? Is it a service that they can offer out of normal trading hours? In addition, how can they ensure that restricted goods such as alcohol, tobacco and knives, are sold only to the appropriate age group?
2. Relax Sunday trading rules: Following on from the theme of making it easier for the customer, relaxing Sunday trading rules is one possible solution that many businesses would like to see implemented. Currently, retailers are only allowed to trade for six hours on a Sunday, between 10am and 6pm. However, smaller stores of less than 3,000 sq ft are able to open for longer.
The restrictions were suspended during the Olympics and Paralympics, and many retailers now want them to be lifted all together. While supporters of the idea believe it will provide more convenience for consumers, boost spending and increase job opportunities, critics worry it will harm smaller retailers and that it could have an adverse effect on British traditions.
3. Rethink the purpose of the store: Although more and more people are purchasing goods online, many consumers still like to go into an actual shop and see or try the products in real life. Many retailers have noticed a trend for ‘showrooming’, that is going to look at a product in a store but then buying it at a lower price online. While this practice can be damaging to smaller retailers who lose out to the bigger companies who can beat them on cost online, some retailers are recognising this is a trend they can take advantage of.
As a result, it may not be long until we start seeing traditional bricks and mortar stores as ‘retail destinations’ where consumers can go and view a few samples – which they can touch and feel, rather than simply a place where they go and purchase goods. Retailers who evolve in this way may well start to exploit technology, such as interactive screens, to help immerse consumers into the brand as well.
If this trend takes off, we could well see the look of the high street change. Large premises may be turned into smaller, independent units, or bigger spaces may take on more of a department store feel through smaller concession retailers. Of course, if retail units are adapted for viewing, as opposed to buying, the existing trading laws may not apply or require adaptation to support these changes.
What do you think – are there ways that retailers can adapt to survive on the high street?