The growth of digital retail has been seen by many as the harbinger of doom for the high street in recent years; as more and more Britons have resorted to online shopping, footfall has declined and more stores have either ended up being boarded up or finding new uses.
With lockdowns increasing the amount of online shopping, it may be felt by some that the process has now accelerated beyond the point of no return and that the physical store is set to dwindle. But there may be an alternative future, akin to the old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Writing a guest piece for Internet Retailer, Chief Innovation Officer at Productsup Marcel Hollerbach suggested that while stores are seeing rising footfall as the pandemic eases in the wake of a successful vaccine rollout, the increased use of online shopping will not go away. The future of retail, he suggests, is a “hybrid” of the two.
He said that to retain their competitiveness, “retailers must now digitise their in-store experience and tailor it to those of us who spent our lockdowns shopping almost entirely online via a variety of different marketplaces and ecommerce platforms”.
This means that while retail maintenance still matters, it should be in line with an approach that makes use of omnichannel methods. Shoppers entering stores should be able to use digital purchasing means while they are in there.
Mr Hollerbach suggested ways digitisation could augment in-store retail would include buying online and picking items up in the store, and using data more to establish just what consumers want to find when they come through the doors. Inventory advertising via social media and the use of new technology like QR codes, virtual reality and AI are also part of the mix.
On the face of it, retail has seen a good couple of months, with July providing a 23 per cent increase in sales, only a little less than June, according to the Confederation of British Industry.
However, for the high street to go on thriving and grabbing a good slice of those sales, it seems it needs to treat digital not as a rival, but as a partner.