On 14th May I am looking forward to speaking at the first “Digital High Street” conference. I’ll be speaking about a topic very close to my heart is something I’ve observed, we all have, we’ve all been part of it to a greater or lesser extent – and that’s the “consumer revolution”. If you want to come to the event register HERE!
The internet has profoundly and irreversibly changed the way we shop
Thanks to the internet, broadband, 3G and an explosion of mobile devices, more and more of us have integrated an online, digital experience into the routines of our lives. In under 20 years the internet, and the capabilities for researching, transacting and communicating that it has enabled, has completely, and irreversibly, transformed the way we shop.
And the impact on retail was fuelled by the global economic downturn
However, the timing couldn’t have been worse… the catalyst for the mobile explosion was the launch of the first iPhone in January 2007, and, within no time at all, consumers had access to the internet any time, any place, anywhere through a plethora of new devices that came to market. Not only could they transact, they could search, research, price compare, review and seek comment from peers on social networks. Then the credit crunch arrived, followed by a deep and hard-hitting recession. Consumer confidence plummeted, retail sales were dramatically affected, and businesses that’d enjoyed years of good times had 2 huge issues to tackle:
- Declining sales and far more price sensitive customers who were also very well connected to their peers on social networks
- Consumer demand for an integrated online-offline-mobile shopping experience that enabled them to both shop, and have their requirements fulfilled, in a way that was convenient for them, that fit in with their busy lives
For many retailers, and certainly for those who’ve disappeared from the high street, these 2 transformational factors taking place simultaneously was too much for them to cope with. The hardest hit were those who sold a products like books, music, film – all product that could be bought cheaper online or downloaded digitally. Certainly any traditional, physical retailer trying to compete against that kind of dramatic change would be fighting a losing battle.
The consumer has taken control of THEIR retail experience…
The consumer had taken control of THEIR retail experience. They wanted to shop their way, with brands they could engage with. Their access to knowledge and their consumption of media changed. In a world where money was harder to come by and trusted brands such as banks and insurance companies had failed consumers, getting people to part with their cash was far harder. This was the consumer revolution. Empowered by their access to digital content, consumers were in control. Retailers needed to change fast to stand any chance of engaging with this NEW consumer.
Yet I believe the internet is only a threat if you ignore it!
It was out with the old, in with the new. Such rapid change unsettled many; Mary Portas was reported to have called the internet a threat to the high street. I completely disagree. The fact is, and this has been proven by those retailers who have transformed to meet the demands of the new consumer, the internet is only a threat if you ignore it and don’t embrace the opportunities that it brings.
For those retailers who were agile enough and able to rapidly rethink their proposition, embracing the consumer revolution, things were very different. We’ve seen some retailers who have really turned the change to their advantage – they have led the way for the retail evolution. This isn’t exclusive to online success stories such as ASOS; far more traditional, store-based brands, such as John Lewis and Debenhams, have too been able to turn around their fortunes by acting quickly to embed new technologies.
Independent Retailers are leading the retail evolution as they are more agile and able to adapt
However, there is a long way to go. Major brands, in the main, are far less able to innovate and embrace the digital opportunity than the smaller, independent retailers. On 14th May after my talk I will have the pleasure of introducing 3 amazing independent retail business owners who all believe they owe much of their success to the opportunities that leveraging digital has opened up to them. They will each share fascinating insights and I am sure many of the bigger chains could learn a thing or 2 from them!
The evolution of a new retail model, a new high street model will take time…
I predict the high street of the future to be a very different place, although there is still a lot that has to happen to get there, and, for many, this will be a painful process. Our future high street will seamlessly integrate with the digital world. People who are connected online will still need places to meet in person and they will still want to interact with product. Our high streets will become places that provide an experiential, enjoyable environment to live, work and play. It will be essential that they present a relevant and balanced offer of retail, leisure and services, tailored to the needs and wants of the local customers. As for retail? Well, I would expect every retail outlet to be playing a critical role in their customers’ end-to-end shopping experience – from presenting product through to offering a fulfilment centre, and to be supplemented by various bespoke services that set them apart from the online offerings.
I think a truly digital high street will be a great place, a unique place, that’s evolved (and which will continue to evolve) to specifically serve its local community. So here’s to the future, and here’s to a digital high street!
I hope you can join me at what is set to be a fantastic event exploring the “digital high street” – register now HERE and by using this link the organisers will also be making a small donation to the Support for Independent Retail campaign! Thanks for reading, see you there!