Why convenience is key to reviving the high street

New research shows that convenience factors are driving consumers online but investment in customer experience could help retailers create an offering that works in all channels – including bricks and mortar.

New store formats and greater synchronisation with online channels are key to keeping the high street alive in 2016, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.

The study by marketing agency Live & Breathe shows that a third of people did less shopping on the high street in 2015, as convenience services such as click-and-collect and same-day delivery continue to drive new shopping behaviour.

The current stream of Christmas trading statements reveal mixed fortunes for retailers. Although John Lewis reported a 6.9% rise in sales in the six weeks to 2 January, boosted by a 21.4% hike in online trading compared to the previous year, in-store sales were down 1.2%. Meanwhile, Next saw a 0.5% fall in high street sales in the 60 days leading up to 25 December and Marks & Spencer’s general merchandise sales were down 5.8% in the 13 weeks to Boxing Day.

The high street also experienced a relatively quiet Black Friday in comparison to 2014 as growth in UK spending during the discount period halved, according to figures from MasterCard. However, the payment firm calculates that online spending over the Black Friday weekend topped £1bn for the first time.

Live & Breathe’s survey of 1,000 UK consumers confirms a shift away from the high street in 2015. It shows that 21% shopped ‘a little less’ and 15% shopped ‘much less’ on the high street compared to the previous year. Only 13% say they did more shopping in physical stores last year, while 52% estimate it was ‘about the same’.

Parking is the most common complaint, selected by 45% of respondents when asked what they feel is getting worse on the high street. This is followed by the fact that it is too busy and queues are too long (30%), which is ironic given that fewer people are out shopping, while 28% believe it is more expensive than online shopping and 19% say customer service is an issue.

Live & Breathe’s head of innovation and digital Viv Craske believes some retailers have been slow to adapt their stores to new consumer behaviours and, in particular, the increased demand for better experiences. In light of the forecast growth in the economy this year, he suggests retailers could therefore allocate more budget to develop new store formats.

“I don’t think the research is saying that the high street is dying, but it does show clearly that people want a great experience on the high street and in shopping malls, and that retailers aren’t necessarily focusing on that,” he says.

“When people shop online, it’s mainly for cost, convenience and range – all the hygiene factors that the high street used to rely on but can’t anymore. You have to offer a great shopping experience, which means rethinking what a retail store looks like.”

Convenience is top priority

The research suggests that convenience factors are reshaping the way people shop, with 19% of respondents selecting click-and-collect as the technology or service that changed the way they shopped in 2015, making it the most popular choice. In addition, 7% of people say they used click-and-collect for the first time last year.

The service, which enables shoppers to order online and pick up in store, is quickly gaining traction at many high street retailers, with John Lewis stating that sales through click-and collect were up 16% in the run up to Christmas and that it was the delivery method of choice for half of all orders.

Retailers are also pushing ahead with other new convenience-led services such as same-day delivery – a service introduced by Amazon and Argos in 2015. Nearly half of people (48%) say an option for same-day delivery would encourage them to shop online more often, while 69% say the same for free delivery and 43% for one-hour delivery. These options are considerably more popular than hypothetical new technologies such as delivery drones (13%) and deliveries by self-driving cars (10%).

“There is now this concept that people can press a button on any device in any place and get what they want delivered almost immediately,” notes Craske.

“Some people call it ‘the Uberisation of everything’ – the idea that you might be having a picnic in a park, or planning a party for the next day, or shopping for a last-minute gift, and you can do all that on any device in any location in seconds.”

Interestingly, the survey shows that almost one in 10 people (9%) bought something online for the first time in 2015. Craske says the figure is surprising given that ecommerce has existed for over 20 years, but adds that it shows “there is still huge growth around the use of technology in shopping”.

He argues that rather than looking at their high street stores or digital services in isolation, retailers should invest in research and build multichannel strategies around new consumer behaviours.

“Technology isn’t necessarily a threat to traditional retail,” says Craske. “All it means is that there’s an increased number of fragmented touchpoints that we need to talk to people about. The more touchpoints we use to talk to people more frequently, the more we lock them into our specific retail brands.”



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