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How can high street retailers survive the online shopping onslaught? That is the golden question and one that is seeing “one in nine British high street shops shut” across the UK, according to the British Retail Consortium. This isn’t a particularly new problem, just one that has been escalating in the last five years – and it’s creating a ghost town environment in many cities. The answer to the above question is very complex, without a single solution; but rather one that is seeing most businesses and brands scrambling to balance a new era of customers’ desires to not leave their computer in order to buy something, and the classic shop-front paradigm.
A recent Guardian article focused on the closure of long-time UK camera chain, Jessops, and saw its demise as a microcosm of the entire retail sector’s dilemma: ‘Despite trying to rebalance itself by offering other products and services, said Neil Saunders, a retail analyst at Conlumino, Jessops never quite managed it. “We’ve seen this pattern replicated many times before and it’s been shown to be true in music and video – especially where the product is becoming digitalised – and it is true in books to a lesser extent.”
Other analysts have echoed this sentiment, so what is the answer to the problem? I, for one, would assume that specialist businesses could survive the Internet age – don’t people want to see and feel something as particular as a camera, before buying? Apparently not. And of course the dreadful economy isn’t helping bolster UK high street sales. Saunders did offer a salient solution for the problem, citing the ever-resilient John Lewis and Debenhams as successes (but aren’t they specialist, or just prestige brands?): “What retailers need to do is not to see their operations as about stores and online but to see it as a seamless whole and then decide what they need to do to bring their products to market: how many stores they need and how the internet fits in with that.” Whatever the case may be – online shopping is here to stay.