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Is this really the death of the high street as we know it?

by uma
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By Alice Woodward, New Business Manager at Organic 

Not long ago, the death of the high street was all we were hearing about. Online retailers like Amazon changed the game for convenience shopping, and it was no longer necessary to nip to your local hardware store for some screws and then on to Boots for some shampoo. One swipe of a button, and Amazon has it all with you the next day. 

And then came the COVID-19 pandemic. After decades of doom and gloom, surely, this would be it? Online shopping went from strength to strength. Many of us even struck up a familiar relationship with our local Evri (RIP Hermes) driver as they frequented our homes with a parcel in hand. Who could imagine having to head back into town to shop for clothes, household items, or dog food again? In the wake of the pandemic, we saw the death of high street icon Topshop, and the stores that once stood in every town and city closed their doors for the last time after suffering extreme losses. The high street’s fate seemed sealed. 

However, over the last few months, increasing numbers of big online brands have opened their first physical stores or showcased limited edition pop-ups in London’s most popular streets. It brings us to question, is the high street really dead? And if not, how do brands ensure their digital strategy caters for offline as well as online? 

Earlier this year, influencer favourite, Gymshark announced it would be opening a flagship store on Regent Street. Similarly, Justmylook opened a physical store, and Chinese fast fashion retailer Shein recently launched a pop-up store in London’s West End to showcase a curated collection of the retailer’s seasonal lines. Other popular retailers such as Amazon and ASOS have been experimenting with physical stores too – some more successfully than others – but if the high street has been proclaimed as dead, then what’s driving this trend? 

Well, it’s more than Gymshark just opening a shop with shelves of leggings and sports bras. The flagship will feature fitness classes, brunch events and talks from well-known fitness industry pros. In Shein’s case, a face-to-face shopping experience might help to build trust and popularity with cautious Gen Z shoppers who want to know more about the brand that often finds itself under scrutiny for poor employee working conditions, accusations of plagiarism and almost no supply chain transparency.

In both cases, it’s clear that the motive for entering the world of bricks and mortar is to build an emotional connection with their customers, create a sense of community and give people an exclusive experience. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why the likes of Amazon’s Fresh stores haven’t been so successful. With no cashiers, cameras are instead used to detect the items customers have picked up and charge their cards shortly after they walk out – certainly not the personal, community building experience some people are looking for if they are headed to a physical store. 

One clear advantage of physical experiences over digital ones is the ability to get more commitment from shoppers. If people have chosen to head into your store, even if only to browse, they’re much more likely to pick up a few items, try them on and purchase. When shopping online however, it’s not uncommon to add a load of products to your basket and then get distracted midway through and not complete your transaction. 

Judging by recent trends in retail so far, it looks like maybe the high street isn’t going anywhere after all. Perhaps these trends will shift as we fall deeper into the cost-of-living crisis, but one thing is for sure – physical stores certainly shouldn’t be wiped from your horizons. 

If you’re thinking of investing in one, or are creating a pop-up experience for your brand, it’s important you have a digital strategy to support both. There are many tactics that can be implemented within your paid advertising strategy to help boost offline sales. Paid and social are both pretty much instantaneous. Set your budget, audience and timeframe, create your ads, press go. The intended audience will see the ads straightaway (pretty much). When the pop-up closes, turn the ads off and reuse them next time. If you need to change the location, you can just update the ads with the new location and details. It’s a simple, yet effective process. 

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