The final Woolworth store downed its shutters just over four years ago. Its closure marked the end of an era and heralded the onset of turbulence in the retail arena. The economic downtrend that began in the year 2000 saw more than 25,000 town-centre stores closing shop. Today, one out of nine shops has fallen prey to recession and lies abandoned or vacant. Consumers have been tightening their purse-strings and have shown no signs of loosening them any time in the near future.
Virtual stores are another major threat to traditional brick and mortar stores. Products that are sold online tend to be cheaper and customers automatically gravitate towards them. Convenience is also another big contributing factor as to why online shopping is gaining in popularity.
Over the last year, prominent High Street names such as JJB Sports, Cornet, Blockbusters and HMV have been hit hard. Die-hard shoppers have also been left reeling in the wake of the losses in the retail sector. However, despite the complete ebb in businesses in High Street, it would be a little a little too early to proclaim that High Street is dead. Some stores have collapsed entirely and moved into bankruptcy and thousands have been left jobless. On the other hand, some stores have managed to keep their neck above water by attracting heavy-duty investors.
John Lewis has been one of the lucky businesses that recorded an increase of 11% in sales in the period from Nov- Dec 2012 in comparison to the same period in 2011. Stores such as Primark, Argos, Next and Sainsbury are well above the danger-mark. They have managed to beat the persistent competition from online stores by keeping their prices competitive and maintaining consistency in their services and products.
The High Street stores that have taken the biggest hit are the ones that price their goods at a higher rate than similar ones that are sold online. Entertainment products such as CD’s, DVD’s and books as well as electronics such as televisions, cameras, laptops and mobile phones are almost always cheaper on websites such as Amazon. Shrewd shoppers do all of their window shopping at physical stores and then make their actual purchases online at discounted prices.
This is precisely what led to the downfall of HMV. The one-time music biggie has been struggling to stay afloat with gimmicks like launching gift voucher schemes. Stores such as Jessops and Comet have met a similar fate and have faded out completely. A fact to note is that it is generally stores that have no unique services to offer that have gone under. There are a few independent music stores that conduct thriving businesses, thanks to their innovative marketing and exceptional service. Standalone stores that offer unique novelty or vintage-style handmade products still manage to do brisk business as they offer a range of meaningful gifts that are a class apart from the more contemporary but common ones that have flooded the market.
Smaller retailers find rentals prohibitively expensive and online gift stores that sell personalized gifts, tend to fare better. The one high-point of High Street is that shopping in an upmarket area such as this one can uplift the spirits and be an enjoyable experience. Shopping and gossiping with friends, getting the “feel” of products before actually buying them beats online shopping, hands-down. There are times when you have questions about a product or need some advice and shopping online lacks the personal touch that shopping at a brick and mortar store offers. Hopefully, the efforts of retail experts such as Mary Portas will breathe some life into the almost out-of-breath High Street with their business advice.
Maybe all that is required for a turnaround to take place is to revamp customer service and up store maintenance. Businesses have to learn to adapt to changing customer tastes and demands. Retailing is cut-throat business and the only way to survive is to be one up in your game. Nostalgia and brand loyalty play an important role in keeping customers coming back to independent retailers and if they play their cads well and follow some age-old and tried and tested business strategies more footfalls will reverberate in their hallowed retail spaces.