Is Offline Retail Truly Dead?

The last 10 years has seen a monumental shift in consumer behaviour, since the internet has become available to the masses we are able to conduct almost every part of our lives online.

73 per cent of us choose to do our shopping online, and who can blame us? From finding the product we want, conducting thorough research and eventually completing a purchase, the user experience is a perfect automated process.

It’s the age old evolutionary tale ‘adapt or die’; the hyper connected world has made instant gratification the benchmark. For instance, Uber has disrupted the private transport sector to a point where we are no longer happy to wait outside for 10 minutes for a taxi. Surely with regards to the retail sector, adapting means dedicating more focus to online sales? I’m not sure. Despite the general trend and potential to generate a vast amount of profit, digital shopping also creates a vulnerable position for the sellers.

Comparison sites are making it far easier for shoppers to source the least expensive offering meaning the price war wages between the 2 paradigms and the rate that those offering products and services are expected to adapt in the fast paced digital world is enormous, so much so that 57 per cent of people wouldn’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.

Yes, the connected world has truly raised our expectations, and failing to meet those expectations can mean the end is nigh. Talking of expectations – social media has a large role to play in the success of modern day retailers; selling online is no longer enough, you are required to be entirely transparent and ready to respond to criticism via a number of social media channels; the added pressure being that failing to respond, or respond in the deemed ‘acceptable’ manner can pose the threat of a detrimental viral explosion.

It seems that to a large extent, online retailers are at the mercy of the faceless masses – but, failing to have an online presence can leave the public with the perception that you are outdated and irrelevant. While other sectors have raised the white flag and admitted defeat, it seems that retail has designed an entirely different game.

Some businesses have even launched solely online and demand has seen them venture into opening physical stores, which isn’t the conventional journey for a business in this digital age, “Online retail is a fantastic opportunity to reach out to places that you wouldn’t normally get sales from, however, there is nothing better than being able to speak to the customer face to face and explain in detail how a product works.

This tends to lead to less issues with using the product and the customer has a base of knowledge that they can pop back into and speak to our customer service members of staff”, Darren Sharples from Cloudstix explains, “We had an ongoing demand from customers to open high street stores so that the customers could try, hold & test our devices before purchasing them. So this prompted us to look at going offline as well, once the first site was successful we then rolled out more.”

The offline retail sector suffered a huge blow during the recession as we can all see for ourselves on high streets across the country. However, we are beginning to see a rejuvenation in traditional shopping habits thanks to the popularity of ‘indie shopping’. Premium brands and local stores have rediscovered the value in a physical presence and have re-ignited the passion in the UK’s shoppers in seeing and touching an item through the introduction of pop up shops.

“Pop-ups have been quietly working their magic to rejuvenate flagging high streets, while giving new British retail talent an opportunity to get their first taste of the high street”, Becky Jones from PopUp Britain explains, “A few years ago, people were saying that the high street was dead. Pop-ups aren’t the only answer, but they are proving they can add value and long-term benefit by offering an affordable training ground for the high street entrepreneurs of the future”

These pop up shops have crafted a lucrative strategy – to offer goods for a limited time only, peaking the interest and creating a frenzy while the public try their hardest to get their hands on exclusive goods. But once the pop up has gone or the item they want in a particular size/colour has gone, or having a delivery option is more convenient – where can we go to get the items? Online of course! Omnichannel retailing is the integrated strategy that combines both offline and online offerings to go beyond the cold automation and provide a seamless customer experience that offers the option of human interaction at either end of the process, should that suit the user. A great example of this collaboration is the recent partnership between Ebay and Argos, where Ebay users can collect items rather than waiting for them to be posted.

This is the true use of digital innovation within the retail sector; not using to kill the traditional retail sector, but to enhance it and create a unified offering. Offline isn’t dead, it has a new, unconventional life that is only just beginning,