Do digital and online mean the end of the high street?

I’ve long been a big fan of digital content – in all its forms – and how it’s changing our lives for the better.  More choice, more variety, better (read cheaper) prices and convenience.  It’s all about the anytime, anywhere and anyhow philosophy – with us consumers far more in control of when, where and how we consume.  But, this clearly has an impact on the more traditional world of content in its physical form.  And also drives our retail experiences – beyond simple content.

Digital media and content

Some interesting questions come up…

  1. Can digital/online and physical/traditional retail co-exist peacefully?  Yes they can.
  2. What about our traditional high street shops?  We need them but they need to change.
  3. Should we all buy online?  A good question!

It’s not just about digital content – going online for content ultimately impacts my other retail experiences and drives me to the same retail channels, online, for other products.

It’s number 3 that right now is the big one.  In the UK we’ve seen some major high street shops go under recently – or change hands and scale down.  Including – Game, Jessops, Comet and HMV.  Some with years and years of history going right back to when consumers started listening to and consuming content (and buying products).

Consumers

So why are they struggling?  I think it’s quite simple – a reluctance to change and move with what consumers want (all of the above in the introductory paragraph).  Cheaper prices, more choice and one not mentioned above better service.

This last one is important and maybe something not considered as much as it should be.  Good service – or even excellent service (of which I’m a huge fan) – is crucial to build relationships with your customers and get them back and get the all important repeat business going.  Just look at how Amazon do customer service.  No quibbles when taking items back – fantastic return policies – and people to help when you need it, however you want to contact them (not waiting round for someone who might not be the right person to help).

Customer service

Another big plus online is the whole idea of reviews – from consumers just like you, telling you exactly what they think of the item, good or bad.  This helps you make your decisions.

Your typical high street shops now are used more for browsing – and people then compare prices with online retailers, go away and order online for it to be delivered a couple of days later.  Sure there are some purchases that don’t make sense to do this way but more people are going this way.  And yes I’m one of them.  How can I justify a book in one of the few remaining high street shops, when online (and by online I mean Amazon) it’s half price (with great service and quick delivery) – there just isn’t any competition.

Traditional UK high street

I can shop when I want and even when mobile.  It’s all so convenient.

Everyone talks about how much of their Christmas shopping these days is done online and typically this means Amazon.

It’s another post about whether Amazon’s business models (pricing) are sustainable or not for them – but so far it’s working and their bottom line is healthy (now)!

So now to the crunch question – is there still a place for the traditional high street?  I think there is.  A lot of change is needed and retailers need to embrace online and digital as well as their traditional retail arms.  This is critical.  If they don’t – and don’t do it quickly, they’ll sadly go the same way as others.

For us consumers, it’s an exciting time but will be a sad one as well if we lose well known names from the high street.

It’s time to change!

It's time for change

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