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Image by Roberto Verzo

The High street is fast becoming a bleak place, where even a ghost town has more shops open. It begs the question as to what will be left come the end of 2013?The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimates that one in nine shops stand empty throughout the country. Is there a solution to the growing competition from the internet which is forcing many retailers out of business? 

The Current Climate

Famous chains are in no way immune from the economic downturn. In fact, well known high street retailers like Blockbuster, Jessops and perhaps most prominently for many, HMV,  are the latest to make the headlines having called in the administrators. There are 4,500 jobs at risk at HMV alone.  Gone are the days when these ‘giants’ were putting smaller, independent retailers out of business due to their seemingly unstoppable dominance.

The Competition

Many have fallen victim to the new spectre of internet shopping and in particular through its best known forms, the monoliths Amazon and eBay.  With vastly smaller overheads, creative tax avoiding strategy’s and exponentially expanding economies of scale companies such as Amazon have been chipping away at the high street in sales of everything from Books to gadgets and DVD.

In addition they and a cluster of other competitors, notably Apple, have cornered the digital market which is widely acknowledged as being the key entertainment and media markets of the future – almost 45% of the UK population own a Smart phone and 10% own a tablet device.

Not only do these portable and popular pieces of kit consume digital content they also make shopping for traditional goods and services considerably easier than boarding a bus to the local shops. Amazon and eBay have both developed Smart phone apps to give users access to their platforms in any location – including a barcode scanner which will allow shoppers to compare prices of goods in a shop against their own. There might be footfall in a shop, but the consumer could well be treating it as an Amazon or ebay ‘live catalogue.’

Time Is Of The Essence

In addition the online retailers have vastly improved their delivery times in the last ten years, for instance Amazon can deliver many products to their prime customers the day and in some cases, even the same day for a fee. The online giants appear to be breaking down the time and distance barriers which only physical stores could once deliver. 

The Future

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Some high-street retailers managed to escape the clutches of their purely online rival – notably department stores John Lewis, House of Fraser and Debenhams –who have achieved relative success in integrating their online operation with the physical stores.

Many retail analysts believe that the key to the survival of the High Street lies by making this combination one ‘seamless’ whole. Consumers undoubtedly still enjoy the hands on shopping experience, but are also able to show brand loyalty whilst shopping online with their preferred retailer, made even more likely by a reward scheme or store card.

It would be a mistake to think that only the large retailers will survive the current high street dilemma, Pound stores, charity shops, independent retailers who can keep up the pace still have an opportunity to survive and perhaps thrive if they establish an online presence as well as a high-street one.

Though admittedly could be a daunting prospect to someone who isn’t a computer whizz, e-commerce software can greatly simplify the task, allowing business owners to create a professional online shop expediently and at a reasonable price.

Can you think of any other benefits of merging a high street presence with an online one?

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Robert Dickson is a prolific blogger interested in ecommerce and its effect on the high street and traditional retail platforms. He writes for K3 Retail.

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