Retail is changing at speed; it has led to many doomsayers predicting the imminent collapse of the offline shopping experience. But the future role of the high street can be found with even a cursory look at human behaviour. In fact, we can see that the lines between online and offline retail are already blurring.
Humans as a default tend to seek the path of least resistance. It’s hard coded within our DNA. What we consider laziness is actually us trying to optimise our productivity. We want shortcuts. We want things yesterday. Quicker delivery times. Quicker payment. Do you offer free returns? Retailers are in a race to reduce friction where possible. This is why online brands such as Amazon have dominated the high street in recent years.
The ‘new’ role of offline retail is actually an old one. Whereas online retail is driven by a human’s need for productivity, the high street accommodates a human’s need for social interaction (in the real world, not on Facebook). In the 80s and 90s, going shopping was a day out. It was planned. Often with family and friends. It wasn’t a means to an end. And here we see a role that online, as it stands, simply can’t adopt. It’s hardly ground-breaking to say that offline will be experiential. The important thing is to understand why. By understanding the motivations for more tangible, experiential and social shopping, retailers will be better placed to understand what changes they should make.
For example, the high street can strengthen its offer by using technology to enhance the experience, rather than seeing it as a death knell of offline retail. Smart retailers will incorporate technology to address the more productive needs of consumers.
Consider fashion retailer Bonobos. Their bricks and mortar store is actually a showroom. You can’t pay for anything in store. Rather, you pay online with your smart phone (like you might in an Apple store). With no stock leaving the shop, every size and colour is always available to try on! The retailer has seen that instore transactions were almost double the value of those made purely online. Offline also generated more repeat transactions and of course fewer returns. So, give people the experience, but complement it with the productive strengths of online retail.
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