Rumours of the high street’s demise have been greatly exaggerated
The way we shop may have changed markedly over time, but the nation’s appetite for shopping is as voracious as ever.
This was shown, once again, in the frenzy around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, now important landmarks in the retail calendar. Early estimates suggest that spending exceeded £7bn.
The fundamental shift has been driven by the internet. I opened the first shop of my original business Travelex, a little bureau de change near the British Museum in London, in 1976 – 13 years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, a seminal moment in the development of the internet.
Read more: DEBATE: Is there any point to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in Britain?
Today, the web has disrupted retail as much as any sector: it accounts for about 14 per cent of retail spending in this country, and it is growing fast. In the UK, we spend more per capita online than any other country in the world, and over a billion parcels are sent every year.
For many years, the prevailing view has been that the rise of online retail will result in the death of the traditional high street. There are an estimated 1,500 high streets in the UK, and they lie at the heart of our communities. Many feared that our appetite for online shopping would render them redundant.
It is undeniable that some high streets have been adversely affected by the rise of online shopping. Yet what we are seeing today is greater collaboration between online and physical retail, between clicks and bricks.
Many people who shop online prefer to click and collect, picking up their parcels from convenient places they are passing in the course of their day, rather than send deliveries to their home.
Some 55 per cent of consumers say that there isn’t someone at home during the day to accept their deliveries and these so-called “failed deliveries” cost the industry £780m per year. It is no surprise that click-and-collect is becoming the fastest-growing delivery proposition for online shoppers.
Click-and-collect is also helping to drive new footfall onto the high street. The click-and-collect company I chair, Doddle, has high street parcel pick-up points inside Morrisons supermarkets, Debenhams department stores, B&Q Superstores, and Cancer Research UK charity shops.
As many as 40 per cent of the users of these locations are new customers to the host retailer. Many of them will come in to collect a parcel from Doddle, and end up buying something from the shop they are in. There is also a significant green dividend from consolidating parcel traffic to single collection points rather than home delivery.
This leads to less congestion from delivery vans, with the resulting environmental benefits.
There is even a trend for some predominantly online retailers to take bricks and mortar space to promote their most popular product lines. For example, last year Missguided opened the first of its (now three) stores in London, and last week Amazon opened their Black Friday store just off Soho Square.
More collaboration between online and physical is a win-win that increases both footfall and sales. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of the high street’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Read more: The short-lived frenzy that was Black Friday