The rise of online shopping has hit brands hard. But it could be just the thing to end the homogeneity of the British high street—and offer customers something newby Jessica Brown / May 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
It’s been another bad week for the high street, with Carphone Warehouse announcing plans to close 92 stores, M&S to close 100, and WH Smith voted as the worst high street retailer out of 100 major retailers in a Which? survey.
WHSmith, the focus of a Twitter account created to mock the retailer’s outdated décor, has ranked in the bottom two in the Which?survey for eight consecutive years. Ben Clissitt, Which? magazine editor, said: “It is clear that our traditional high street is changing, and while this is bad news for some retailers who have struggled to adapt, others have seized the opportunity to make their mark.”
This is a one common thread among struggling and unpopular retailers, one that threatens to cause more casualties: a failure to modernise and adapt to the growth of online shopping, when Brits now buy a quarter of their non-food shopping online.
Other shops have changed to offer what the internet can’t. Which? found that customers valued being able to touch, feel and try on items, and ask staff questions—which goes some way to explaining why cosmetics company Lush ranked first in the survey.
“Young people will come off the internet”
Tim Radley, founder of retail specialists VM Unleashed, said the retailers who survive will offer “omni-channel” shops. “Offline and online will be completely integrated so shops are an experience, not stuff—they’re enjoyable, and people go and have a good time.”
“Young people will come off the internet, but only for experiences.”
This will include offering events, concerts, coffee shops and barbers, for example, as well as engaging and enthusiastic staff, Radley added.
Waterstones—once owned by WHSmith—came joint 8th in the Which? survey, and has reinvented itself to do just this. James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said this was a conscious move in 2011 after the bookseller went “stone cold bust.”
“If you compete with online, where a lot of troubles for retailers on the high street stem from, you’re not going to be competitive on price, so you have to concentrate on experience, on making shops attractive for customers,” Daunt told Prospect.
The move to respond to these new challenges has been, rather confusingly, to focus on the virtues of old-fashioned bookselling, Daunt explained, with face-to-face service that he said…