According to Springboard, November footfall across UK retailers had fallen by 3.2%, the lowest since the recession. As tumbleweeds roll across high streets, store fronts constantly screaming "CLOSING DOWN" sales and independent shops struggling to keep afloat, the questions is, why? Why is no one shopping IRL anymore?!
November should always be a relatively busy shopping month, the festive period encourages you to drink pumpkin spiced lattes whilst grabbing your Crimbo presents under the sparkling reindeer lights suspended high above you. Has there been damage done from adopting the American retail tradition of Black Friday sales? U.S scenes of people stampeding across shop floors for staggering discounts are unlikely to sit well with us Brits. The chances are we would rather have a hot cup of tea and a garibaldi in the safety of our living rooms, shopping at the click of a button, than endure that particular mission.
I've recently started watching Mr Selfridge again and aside from his philandering ways, he really was a remarkable businessman.
He was credited with the phrase "the customer is always right" and his store, although now under new ownership, still sits proudly in Oxford Street some 100 years later. Mr Selfridge heralded the customer experience journey. Where items were previously kept "under the counter", his store pioneered sensory-marketing; how a consumer can touch, see and smell the products available to them. Is this what we are missing, this feeling of exclusivity, of luxury and impeccable customer service that far outweighs the comfort of online shopping? One store that does something similar to post-modern Selfridges, is White Stuff in Winchester, where nestled at the back of their store, they have a small tea room. Various teas and biscuits are available to consume, free of charge, in their cosy little snug - something Harry Selfridge would have approved of...keeping the customer in the store for as long as possible and as happy as possible.
I for one LOVE shopping. There is something therapeutic about running your hands along the different fabrics in a clothing store, or getting close to the tiny trinkets in a gift shop. I find online shopping tedious, never knowing where to look for something, constantly annoyed at the delivery charges and always missing the package when they finally get to my door. As less people hit the high street, more shops close, meaning people are even less likely to venture into town for the meagre offerings.
So what is going to happen?
I am hoping that independent retailers will stick it out - see what could be a gap in the retail market that would follow people gradually starting to use online features less as they crave human interaction more. Perhaps there could be a way of encouraging shopping in-store above sales and discounts. I've seen a few collaborative stores, particularly in cycling, where cycle outlets and quirky coffee shops have teamed up to offer a different shopping experience. With the ripples of AR being adopted in different industries, even as a marketer, I am slightly wary of this in otherwise purely human interactions. I'm not sure if this is the approach that could (or should) entice the average shopper, the ones that aren't the Innovators or Early Adopters. So perhaps it just comes down to the customer experience, of well-trained and friendly staff, of minimising queuing time but fulfilling the shoppers satisfaction of entering a store, finding the perfect gift and leaving with a bag in their hand and a smile on their face.
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