High Street Retail In A Multi-Channel Age: From Shops to Showrooms


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As online shopping gets increasingly popular, where does this leave the humble high street? Are shops really becoming showrooms?

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As more and more purchases are made online, physical shops are starting resemble showrooms. But where does this leave the high street? The answer lies in what customers want from their shopping experience.

The internet may be convenient and cheap but it doesn’t provide an experience in the same way. There are many ways in which online and in-store shopping can coexist happily, where one channel of retail actually boosts the other, providing a cohesive experience that offers the ‘best of both worlds’. In other words, if shops really do become showrooms, then they still have a vital part to play.

The Rise Of Online Shopping

Research by the Economic Intelligence Unit predicts that online shopping will account for a third of all purchases by 2022 – an increase of 20%. Jon Cope-Stake from the EIU comments on these figures in the Financial Times saying that:

“Shops would operate as little more than showrooms but will continue to act as a channel for consumers to see, touch and try out goods – even if they make purchases using other means.”

What’s interesting is that the EIU are not claiming that the high street is ‘dead’, simply that its main purpose has shifted from sales to experience. Online shopping does not mean that people will no longer want to go to ‘the shops’, it just means that the high street has to adapt to its new role in the digital age.

This process is not without challenges though and this is where many retailers struggle. But if done correctly, it can lead to your brand growing and customer loyalty increasing.

Embrace ‘Show-rooming’ Through Multi-Channel Retail

The key to unlocking the potential of the high street is multi-channel retail. What has become clear over the last few years is that the high-street retailers who are slow to adopt a multi-channel approach suffer.

Despite the push for retailers to offer a seamless multi-channel experience – where online and in-store shopping complement each other – many businesses are still caught up in the idea that retail is either physical or digital. However, this attitude is not reflected in the consumer – who sees a retailer as a brand and does differentiate between shop and website.

In fact, one study showed that 63% of customers purchase both from a brand’s website and high street store. This suggests that customers are not loyal to a channel, but to a brand.

The convenience of ecommerce lends itself well to the functional side of retail, but the emotional and experiential side of shopping still need to happen in a shop – otherwise shopping could become simply an exchange of money for goods, which is not always the simplicity a customer wants.

High street shopping can offer what ecommerce can’t and vice versa. In reality, they are the perfect couple and multi-channel strategy which includes both will please all your customers. If your website makes more sales than your store, it does not mean our store is worthless – instead measure the success of your store by how many people walk through the doors.

The Risk Of Becoming a Showroom for Amazon

The problem facing retailers is not so much the idea of becoming a showroom for their website’s products, but instead becoming a showroom for Amazon’s products.

With the rise of the smartphone, this problem has become trickier because customers do not even have to wait until they get home to compare prices. Armed with power of the internet, every in-store shopper has the ability to become super-price-savvy.

This is a very real problem as Amazon’s pieces are nearly always cheaper. A study by William Blair & Co showed that Amazon’s prices were on average 11% cheaper than its competitors. The survey looked at 2,400 products across 24 retailers. The gap gets wider when you take into account shipping costs.

One way that retailers can tackle this is by diverting customer logging into the Wi-Fi to their own website as well as taking the steps below to create a digitally-minded store. You need to create an in-store experience that will make customers want to check out your website.

Digitally Minded High-Street

In order to have a successful multi-channel strategy, your store and website need to be inextricably linked. Retailers should aim to find ways to create an online shopping experience in-store and an online experience that encourages shoppers to visit your store.

One service which effortlessly links the two is Click-and-Collect. This offers a best-of-both-worlds solution for a customer who want the convenience of the online world with the practicality and experience of ‘going shopping’.

Another service proving popular is Burberry’s online yet ‘in-store’ checkout. Instead of the traditional tills, Burberry’s Regent Street store has a collection of stylish sofas where shop assistants help customers pay via Ipads.

Retailers can also integrate social media into their store with signs which encourage customers to ‘like’ products.

Why ‘Shopping Experience’ Is The Future of Retail

The future of the high street will be in supplying experiences not products – connecting with customers on something more just prices. Shopping should a stimulating and satisfying experience and retailers that can provide this as well as the convenience of online shopping will see success.

Customers will always want to ‘go shopping’, so retailers should always provide a physical space for their brand. But that’s just it, the function of the store has changed and shops should focus on brand visibility and customer service instead of sales.

Not only that, but retail is a social experience. Many customers enjoy shopping with friends and family. And the same goes for online, where reviews, social media and recommendations play a huge part in the buying decision.

This push towards an experience has led some commentators to suggest that if shops were to invest more in creating an ‘experience’ for their showroom, retailers could charge an entry fee. This may sound like a radical idea but it is already in practise in Barcelona at Poble Espanyol de Montjuic where visitors pay for a blend of retail, entertainment and education.

The Changing Role Of The High Street

There’s no question that the shopping experience has changed. The role of the high-street has shifted from sales, to something closer to marketing. Branding and customer engagement has become most important in the high-street of showrooms.

A customer’s journey to buying a product is no longer a straight line – they flit between channels, social interactions and even brands before they end up at your checkout.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter which channel they buy through – if your shop helped them to decide on your business, then that’s a success. By integrating in-store experience with online shopping you should be able to prevent them from jumping ship.

Do you think ‘show-rooming’ could save the high street? What do you think is the future of the high-street? Share your thoughts below.

James Duval
James Duval is a marketing expert who has been cited by Mainstreet, ProBloggingSuccess and MarketingProfs. He works for Comm100, thinking about new tricks and techniques in the email and marketing industries.


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