The future of stores is not in sales

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Last year, online sales totalled £68bn – 16% more than the previous year. The growth of online sales is expected to slow down in 2012, with the IMRG and Capgemini predicting 13% growth this year, but that said, it seems as though all the growth in the retail sector in recent years is coming from online and digital channels.

Online now accounts for 17% of total retail spend and plays at least some part in almost every sale in the form of research, social media or reviews.

We’re not there yet, but it’s not unthinkable that before too long will we eventually reach a point where more sales come from online and digital channels and high street stores will cease to be a major sales channel.

They will instead be emporiums for brand engagement and locations to pick up items bought via click and collect with a token sales offering.

While high street retailers are working on delivering integrated bricks and clicks operations to satisfy consumer demands, in a future when sales is no longer the main purpose of high street shops, it will be more common for online only retailers to appear on the high street as part of a brand marketing strategy, rather than a sales operation.

EBay dabbled with a pop-up store in December and it has long been rumoured that Asos.com, beacon of pure-play online retail, is looking at opportunities for the brand to have a physical presence on the high street.

As a sales channel it makes no sense at all for the online business, which today (19 January) reported 46% total growth in the last three months of the year, but as a place for the brand to live and breath and engage with consumers, it would add another string to Asos’s already strong bow, as well as allowing the retailer to offer customers a click and collect option.

In 2011, click and collect was the talk of the town. It was on the lips of every major retailer as they looked at ways to integrate digital channels with physical stores and offer shoppers more convenient ways to buy and receive products.

John Lewis, House of Fraser and Sainsbury’s are just three of the retail brands that ramped up click and collect last year, and many more will follow suit this year giving shoppers the option to buy online and arrange the most convenient way to collect their items.

Mobile and tablet sales are growing and as more people use smartphones and more tablet devices become available, retailers will need to be looking at the opportunities this presents in terms of brand engagement and sales, both as a standalone channel and as part of an integrated multichannel offer.

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