Is online shopping killing the high street?

What’s the Verdict: Is online shopping killing the high street?

What will the old, familiar bricks-and-mortar high street look like in the next 10 years with the rise of ecommerce? 

That is one of the many questions the Verdict Future Retail Strategies Congress 2016 will try and answer.

The truth is, no one knows what will happen. But most people have seen the undeniable decimation of the high street, with so many shops closing or struggling in the face of competition in the form of highly convenient online shopping.

Your local convenience store may still be there in 10 years because most people need to pick up cigarettes or crisps or whatever nik-naks they think they need on ad-hoc basis.

But for your clothes stores, your furniture stores and your other items that require a bit of thought and “shopping around” before purchasing, it’s a different story.

Even with excellent service from a shopkeeper who’s been there for decades or possibly generations, there’s no guarantee that people will choose to forego the online experience.

EM360Tech spoke to the organisers of the Verdict event and asked for an insight. We found that there is a surprising amount of optimism about bricks-and-mortar stores. Perhaps they’ve reached rock bottom and the only way is up?

AnnMarie Mongan, programme director of Verdict Events, is confident there is some ker-ching in the air.

“Compared to last year’s conference, there seems to be a renewed and growing interest in bricks-and-mortar,” she says.

Mongan suggests that what may be required for the new wave of bricks-and-mortar stores is the development of more innovative ways of retailing and the introduction of technology-led techniques, and the event will aim to provide some ideas.

“We have Fred Prego, insight and marketing director at Game, speaking about the ingredients for an exceptional in-store customer experience, for instance,” says Mongan.

Game is a computer games retailer with more than 300 stores dotted around the UK. It’s had its fair share of troubles, going into administration in 2012. But after some restructuring and asset sales, it’s been listed on the London Stock Exchange and has a busy website. Its stores are also more active.

Mongan says: “More retailers seem to be recognising that bricks-and-mortar is an indispensible part of their omnichannel strategy and are looking into new technologies for creating sensory and interactive customer experiences in-store and online.”

Some might say Mongan and those who share her views are clutching at straws, and online shopping means the end of the high street as we know it.

But Maureen Hinton, Verdict’s group research director, disagrees. “Bricks-and-mortar stores are not doomed, they are still a vital element of how we shop,” she says.

“Indeed, even with the success of online retail, they are still the major channel, with  85 per cent of all retail sales bought through stores.

“And though online is often regarded as the death knell of physical retail, it is dependent on stores as both sources of inspiration and even more importantly, collection points for goods ordered online.

“That said, stores are changing to adapt to a new mode of shopping and changing lifestyles. We do not need so many, and those that exist must have a clear purpose which more and more involves entertaining the consumer in some way as well as fulfilling a need.”

The key fact that Hinton points out is that 85 per cent of all retail sales is through physical stores. Which makes you wonder how online retail could have got so big with just 15 per cent of the market.

But the question remains: how big will online retail eventually become and will it bring about the total eclipse of the high street? Verdict’s Hinton and Mongan don’t think so, as they’re not convinced that this is the end of the road for the high street.