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The Future of Retail for High Street Businesses

Over the past decade or so, as online shopping has increased in popularity, we’ve seen High Street businesses in towns and cities across the UK struggling to stay in business.  Online retailers offer some attractive advantages to shoppers.  To begin with, many online retailers (especially smaller businesses) operate without business premises, resulting in much lower overheads, meaning that they can sell their products or services at a cheaper rate than businesses that rent premises and pay utility bills on them.  Customers with busy lives appreciate the opportunity to shop online from the comfort of their own home at a time that’s convenient to them.  Shopping has changed radically, leaving High Street retailers struggling to turn a profit or, in the worst cases, to stay in business and avoid bankruptcy.

With household names like Marks and Spencer, Homebase, Mothercare and Carphone Warehouse announcing closures of high street premises in recent months, the future looks desperate for small to medium independent high street shops.  In a recent column in the Telegraph, a West Midlands Mayor (and former managing director of John Lewis) has sparked off a debate on how to make the UK’s high streets thrive again in the Digital Age.  The Mayor’s article attracted a string of comments from readers in which they revealed what stops them from shopping in their local High Street and today we’re taking a look at some of those reasons.

PARKING – lack of adequate parking spaces, combined with the exorbitant costs of parking in town centres was the number one reason cited by many commenters:

"Why should I pay an extortionate tax on visiting a shop in Reading, when within a few clicks can find the same thing on Amazon delivered the same or next day for free?"

TAX ONLINE RETAILERS - one of the suggestions in the article was to increase business rates and taxes for online retailers (including large companies like Amazon) in order to level the playing field.  A surprising number of commenters agreed with this, while others argued that a tax on successful online retailers would stifle business.

Several commenters revealed that they believe that the decline of our high streets reflects customer demand for a more efficient and convenient shopping experience.  After all, there are so many advantages to shopping online for so many products.  Amazon seems to enjoy the lion’s share when it comes to online shopping and this is probably because it offers such a seamless customer experience.  Prime customers benefit from next day delivery on many items, meaning that shopping online can be a quicker way of receiving a product compared with having to make time to visit the local high street or shopping centre to buy goods.

However, some commenters pointed out that with so many deliveries taking place each day, this is adding to congestion and pollution so it’s not as eco-friendly to shop online as we would imagine.   When it comes to shopping, we all have our preferences and many of us will buy certain products online but visit the High Street for products that we feel we need to see and feel before making a commitment to purchase.

Keeping up with these trends is essential for High Street retailers.  One way in which bricks and mortar shops offer an advantage over online retailers is with personalised customer service.  We all like to feel valued as a customer and this is much easier to achieve when the transaction is done face to face, rather than by pressing the Buy button on a website.