Over the last few years, the High Street has suffered turbulent times and things are only set to get tougher for retail with the number of people visiting Britain’s high streets falling by 20% in the last decade. Why is this happening and are we to blame for the retail decline on our High Street? Do we need to look again at our shopping habits?
Mothercare has closed the doors on its final branch following a loss for the UK operation of over £36 million in the last financial year. Homebase is still hanging by a thread following the closure of a number of stores and after Debenhams reported losses of £492 million last year, 19 UK branches are set to close. 2017 saw a record high rate of high street store closures and this trend continued into 2018 with data from Business Insider UK indicating that more than 3800 retailers were expected to close their doors. 2019 was no brighter and 2020 seems to be heading in the same direction. Maplin, HMV and Toys R Us were high profile retail casualties and following its announcement last June of the closure of 31 stores, House of Fraser is still in trouble. In addition, Gap, Marks and Spencer, Carpetright, LK Bennett and New Look all face ongoing financial difficulties and potential store closures.
The rise in e-commerce has taken its toll on the retail industry with many stores now closing as a result of the change in our shopping habits. The convenience of online shopping, low prices and the speed and ease of home delivery have meant a rise in online purchases and a definitive shift of customer preference from stores to Internet with online shoppers in the UK now spending more per household than any other county. In addition, many high street brands over- expanded during more profitable times and are now paying the much higher price for doing so as online shopping has continued to increase in popularity. If this wasn’t already enough, companies are fighting a losing battle with high business rates and rip off parking charges in town exasperating the problem further.
High street stores offer the opportunity to try out products and provide that all-important visual link between a brand and the customer. However, increasingly customers are researching products in stores then going away to buy them online instead at a reduced cost. For example, Toys R Us was unable to move with the times, it cut staff to save money, which impacted on the quality of customer service it delivered and ultimately was unable to offer anything more than just branded goods which customers could easily find for a cheaper price elsewhere.
Essentially, in order to survive in this new purchasing environment, stores need to offer much more than just a product. As such there is a developing trend towards providing excellent customer experiences rather than just sales. It’s only the strongest in the high street who can survive this downturn, those who are willing to change, innovate and adapt the shopping experience to meet the ever changing needs of the today’s consumers.
It’s disappointing to see major retail giants and much loved brands falling by the wayside but it is sadly a sign of the times and a development, which, as customers, we have inadvertently caused and the consequences of which, if we prefer to continue to enjoy the benefits of online shopping, we will just have to live with.
Woolworths, Maplin, Toys R Us
They sadly are no more
But which store will be next
To have to close its doors?
We live in turbulent times
Things have been quite tough
And whatever is being done
Simply isn’t enough.
Internet shopping is on the rise
And the High Street takes the hit
Why buy something in town
When you can pay less online for it.
You can online shop for hours
In the comfort of your chair
There are no parking charges
And if it’s raining you won’t care.
Business rates are too high
Standards of service far too low
There’s no way of knowing
Which store will be the next to go.
So if you like to have a browse
And want to see your town survive
Get yourself down to the High Street
And help keep it alive.
Hope you like this poem. You can read more poems inspired by the world of Customer Service in my NEW book Are you being served? which is now available to purchase on Amazon. You can also read more about the future of retail in this excellent LinkedIn article by Karen Whybo.
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