Lottie’s take on the future of the high street

I might be a little late to the party, but I recently signed up for ASOS premier delivery and, without sounding cliché, it has revolutionised the way I shop. For £9.95 a year, I can get free next day delivery and just as easily send it back at no additional cost if I change my mind. It doesn’t matter that I can’t try before I buy because the whole purchase, delivery and returns process is so convenient. With online shopping experiences this seamless, I can understand why some believe the high street is heading for collapse, but I think (and hope!) that the physical store will continue to have a presence on our high street.

There’s no denying that the high street has had a bit of a rough time recently, with House of Fraser and Homebase being just two of the most recent retailers to announce store closures. As a B2B PR agency located in the centre of Macclesfield, we’ve seen far too many shops closing down, leaving the local shopping centre looking rather sorry for itself. Yet shopping is still widely considered to be a social activity, and I can’t envision high streets being completely empty while everyone sits at home on their computers instead. Although there are variations in shopping behaviours between generations, it appears that the physical store still has an important role to play for most. Research by KPMG found that generation X* tend to visit physical stores to see, try or fit a product before making an online purchase.

Online retailers themselves appear optimistic about the future of the high street. According to research by our client and leading UK warehouse integrator, Conveyor Networks, only 8% of UK mid-tier online retailers believe the high street will disappear as we know it in the next five years. However, 40% believe this will happen in the next 10 years, suggesting the evolution process will accelerate during this time – but that’s not to suggest that it will demise altogether.

What we could be witnessing is not the death of the high street, but the evolution to its next iteration, and convenience will continue to drive these shopping trends. Some theorise that the high street will become a series of individual collection lockers, so customers can order online and collect their time from a locker point available 24/7. Similar concepts have already been trialled by popular retailers, for example Zara’s ‘fast fashion’ store in London’s Westfield shopping centre. Brands would still have a presence on the high street with a physical touch point, but this would be modelled around convenient delivery and returns for the customer.

I can’t help but think this could look very bland, but I do think we could see a hybrid of this and the physical touchy-feeling shopping experience. Think vibrant, colourful stores and displays offering memorable hands-on product experiences, and if you change your mind later, you can always come back to your locker at your own convenience.

*Not familiar with generation X/Y/Z terminology? Take a look at Alex’s blog on generational marketing.

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