Online vs. The High Street

In the last ten years the way we all shop has undergone a complete transformation.  And of course, the reason for this change is obvious to all.  The introduction of the wonderful world wide web into our lives.  The internet has made it possible to get anything from anywhere at any time.  You can shop from the comfort of your bed, swiping away on your smart phone in the middle of the night.  You can ever so quickly purchase that birthday present you forgot about whilst at work with the ease of a few clicks.

We no longer have to find time, outside of our busy lives, to make it down to the shops and spend hours looking for what we might want.  We just pop it in a search bar and up it comes.  We can even do our grocery shopping whilst sitting on our ever so comfortable sofas.  We no longer have to face the peril that is the supermarket on a Friday evening at 5pm.  But is this change a positive one, really?  It would seem so if you look at it from the angle of convenience . . . but the high street is clearly suffering these days . . . and wouldn’t we all miss it if it were no longer there?

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We’ve all seen businesses like HMV, Jessops, Comet and Woolworths disappear from the high street and be replaced by pound shops, charity shops, or ‘to let signs’.  Now, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but every time I think about the demise of Woollies I can’t help but feel a great sense of loss.  Like I were missing an old friend.  I never knew as a child picking out my 1p sweets from the pick n mix that I was in fact making memories . . . but I guess I was.

The recession has certainly played a part in the collapse of these British Institutions, but online shopping has undoubtedly affected the performance of the high street regulars.  Online shopping is not only more convenient, but it’s usually cheaper too.  It’s incredibly difficult for the high street retailer to compete.  They have far more overheads, so normally have to charge higher prices in order to cover those.  Shops to rent in Cambridge can cost anywhere from £30,000 to £80,000 per year to rent.  That is a massive cost to cover, and that’s without considering that they also have to pay all of their utilities, and probably employ more staff than their online competitors.

Online vs. The High Street

So, unfortunately, the situation appears pretty bleak for the high street retailer. But what can they do to fight back this entity that is threatening their success?  Well, it seems the way forward is to embrace it and use it to reach further heights. Retailers who have taken their businesses online have found it easier to continue to engage with their customers and to reach the next generation of customers that are used to getting anything they need or want from the World Wide Web.  National companies have also found its opened doors for them to take their brands global because of strategic website localisation.  ASOS had fantastic overseas success after they took their business online.

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The most successful high street businesses are those who have invested in integrating their online and high street services in to one streamlined offering. Those where you can order online, get it delivered to your office, but accept returns and process refunds in the high street shop on someone’s lunch break.

Another important factor to bear in mind is social media marketing. Even for businesses (such as restaurants) whose transactions cannot take place on line, it’s still vitally important to have a visible presence online, as people make so many of their decisions based on what they can find on google or what they’re exposed to via twitter and facebook. Don’t lose out on business just because you think your business has nothing to offer online. Create a personality which suits your brand, take photos and videos of products/services/premises that you’re proud of, share relevant information to do with your business, and even give offers and promotions out online. It will make the world of difference.

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Of course with an online presence, or additional online division of your business, you have other costs to consider such as search engine optimisation, online marketing such as PPC, web site hosting, postage and packaging, and customer service personnel, but these costs are invariably far lower than that of the high street.

If high street retailers decide to embrace the internet, the extra revenue they generate from their online sales might just be enough to pay that rent on the shop in town so that our children can continue to make memories there.  I’d hate to see the high street disappear altogether.  The world is just becoming so generic.  It’d be nice to keep the character in our towns that the high street brings.