Since the outset of the pandemic, a multitude of businesses large and small have disappeared from the high street—including brands such as Debenhams, Laura Ashley and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
We will undoubtedly see a lot of empty units and buildings on the high street once lockdown and the relevant restrictions are lifted.
Experts have agreed that this was always going to happen, as the financial benefits that come with trading online have been pushing retailers to do away with their bricks-and-mortar stores in favour of the internet for years now. Once lockdowns began and in-person sales were prevented, this shift to e-commerce rapidly escalated.
For some retailers, however, online trading doesn’t exactly suit their product. Plus, with less competition, it may make sense for them to keep their physical premises when trading can begin again. Shoppers may take some convincing to put their devices to one side, however, and come back to the high street, but it’s worth remembering that it offers a completely different experience to a few clicks on a website. And considering how long we’ve been holed up for, there’s every chance that people will be gagging to walk round the shops that are still standing when we’re allowed back out.
When the internet was establishing itself, businesses would often offer specific deals and discounts for goods purchased online, to encourage traffic to their websites, and because online sales don’t tend to incur the same costs as offline trading.
This same initiative could be used to deter online sales and create a stream of customers to your physical store.
Matt Tuffuor of Toasted Life agrees. He says, ‘Downloadable mobile coupons and loyalty programs are by far one of the best ways to push traffic from online to bricks-and-mortar stores.’
He believes that retailers’ coupons should originate online, so that effective digital tools such as SEO can put them into the hands of a brand’s target market. He adds, ‘Distributed digitally, they can be dynamically updated and personalised. A user’s purchasing behaviour and geographical information can be leveraged, which will help drive effective results and a stronger ROI.’
There’s no comparison to offline shopping when it comes to feeling and touching products. And the longer someone is in a store, the more they might purchase; it’s just getting them there in the first place.
Whilst many online retailers promote an easy returns process, nothing beats physically walking into a shop, choosing an item from a range of options, then trying it on and taking it home without any further hassle. Browsing for products is much easier in person—sometimes, you don’t know what you want to purchase.
For example, I have a daughter who is extremely difficult to buy for. Before Christmas, when shops enjoyed a few weeks’ trade, I could scour different retailers for ideas of things she might like. It’s very difficult to do this online, as a search bar expects you to know what you want.
When her 17th birthday came around at the beginning of February, I couldn’t browse the shops. Even trawling online gift lists didn’t help, as they were much too generic and seemed to include the same old stuff. I found the exercise very limiting. I just bunged her some money in the end that she can spend on whatever she likes when restrictions lift.
It may seem alien to business owners to consider offering in-shop only discounts, but it’s easy to see how much they’d benefit from such a move. Any incentive to get shoppers to the high street will give many businesses a much-needed boost and remind the public that online isn’t the be all and end all. Because, whilst online shopping is no doubt convenient, it does have its drawbacks. (https://www.itkmagazine.com/articles/The-downsides-of-no-high-street)
The uptake in the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme last August was vast, and it was perhaps more successful than expected. The lure of a cheaper meal brought people out of their homes amid the pandemic, and some restaurants/venues struggled to keep up with demand. A similar government scheme was the subject of a rumour last summer, where it was suggested Rishi Sunak would provide every adult in the UK with vouchers to spend on the high street. However, given that there’s still no clear end to the pandemic in sight, and also the shape of the economy after necessary but numerous financial bailouts, it’s unlikely that there will be such an initiative from the Chancellor. Retailers will have to decide on their own incentivising schemes.
I, for one, cannot wait until we’re allowed to visit shops again. There’s no fun in clicking a link and it in no way compares to a day out shopping with my two girls with lunch thrown in. I don’t need discounts or coupons to persuade me back to the high street, though I realise that everyone is different.
Whatever hurdles lovers of online shopping may have about in-person retail, enjoying money off or additional products will surely go a long way to tempting them back to buying in store once again.
We’ve got out of the habit, and Covid-19 has played a hand in this. Still, our shopping habits could quite easily change once again…particularly if there are extra benefits to be enjoyed.
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