The past 14 months have affected the way we shop more than ever before, resulting in the exponential growth of online shopping. We had little option other than to buy the majority of our purchases online, which was a huge shift in our normal shopping habits. People who had rarely (or never) shopped online, were begrudgingly made to adapt the way they shopped. A report from Retail Economics and Natwest found that nearly half (46%) of UK consumers purchased a product online that they had previously only ever purchased in-store. Only time will tell if the shift to online shopping has changed our habits for good.
We think brands need to re-evaluate what their stores need to do to deem them a success
Covid, however, has only accelerated the trend that was already well underway. Online sales have continually increased year on year, with the ONS recording a proportional increase of 35.2% of total sales in January 2021. Brands who had been reacting to the online shift pre-Covid found that they had a better hold on the market when the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, many brands fell short and Covid was ultimately the final nail in the coffin. We saw the collapse of well-known brands such as Debenhams, Arcadia Group, Monsoon, and Warehouse (to name a few). With fierce competition, these companies didn’t invest enough in their online presence, leaving e-commerce giants such as Asos and Boohoo to swallow them up.
Unfortunately, the closure of these stores has left huge holes in our high streets, with many asking, “Is this the beginning of the end of bricks and mortar retail”? We don’t think so. We think in-store shopping is here to stay, albeit a little different than before.
No sales through the door’, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no sale at all.
Despite the huge shift in the way we shop, the footfall numbers in the w/c March 12th were up in some places by 300%, proving there’s still a huge appetite for physical store environments. Moving forward, stores shouldn’t be seen as just places to purchase goods. They should play a fundamental part in a brand’s marketing strategy and should be a key place to build brand awareness and trust. We think brands need to re-evaluate what their stores need to do to deem them a success.
We believe there will be a shift to stores acting as ‘’showrooms’; a place for a brand to create experiences based around their products. Many people treat shopping as a social activity, a place to meet friends, combined with dinner out and enjoy a casual browse in the shops without necessarily purchasing there and then. A sale might be made later online, but it was the store visit that instilled the decision. If stores could track the sales via hashtags through social media or store-specific discount codes, this could provide vital information and prove that ‘no sales through the door’, doesn’t necessarily mean no sale at all.
By utilising stats from online algorithms and sales, a brand can orchestrate location-specific environments based on the local demographic. Pop-up shops are a great way to do this. By showcasing key products or ranges suited to the region, it provides a platform for brands to engage with their target audience and a way to build brand awareness with relatively low investment and minimal risk. It’s also a great way to build anticipation through online advertising and social media. There are some great examples of online-only brands that have opened very successful pop-up shops. Made has opened numerous showrooms across the UK based on customers requesting to touch and feel the products. The results are compelling, with in-store purchases just outweighing online. Head of showrooms, Rebecca Ruddle says “The showrooms give our customers that confidence to purchase from us”. Gymshark partnered up with fitness studio Gymbox and opened their first pop-up store in London, February 2020. They held two two gym classes a day along with regular influencer-filled events. The brand’s physical presence helps to drive their engagement and loyalty and the limited opening strategy creates a buzz and a feeling of exclusivity.
We’re big believers in creating experiences within stores that can not only offer something different but complement the online journey. The ‘go to’ for many retailers is to install digital solutions, and the more the better! As much as we believe digital can be an invaluable tool, we think it should be well considered and only be installed if it adds real value to a store’s offering. No retailer wants to go to the expense of installing thousands of pounds worth of screens and content if they’re going to sit unused and not get updated. Just like online needs to work seamlessly in-store, in-store digital content needs to work
We believe physical stores still have their place on our high streets. Consumer habits will continue to change but it’s how brands react and adapt to those changes that will see them succeed.