The pandemic has brought profound changes in retail, not only a boom in online purchasing but also a resurgence in local high streets.
Deloitte digital director and retail consultant Gillian Simpson reported “a lot of digital behaviours and new services introduced during the pandemic” have stuck, with “trends converging around social media and commerce”, such as virtual appointments and ‘live shopping’ while a member of store staff live streams.
Sharing her insights in the Travel Weekly Insight Annual Report, Simpson said: “We’ve seen the number of physical stores contract. [But] by offering virtual services, you keep the catchment area of customers as broad as possible.”
She highlighted “a lot more use of shopping apps – with people using their own devices for browsing or purchasing in store.”
Simpson noted: “All retailers want to bring the digital and physical together and nail the omni-channel experience. So many organisations have store colleagues with great knowledge and experience. How do you expose that expertise in a digital way to as many customers as possible? Virtual services enable retailers to use that. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a person in store. You just don’t have to go to a store to speak to them.”
She argued: “Retailers with a physical presence need to work hard to put a proposition together? Giving people an experience they won’t get online is essential.”
Simpson sees city centres remaining “a beacon for larger stores”, but forecasts a reduction in “copycat high streets”. She said: “We see a trend towards [consumer] affinity with local retailers because people feel local businesses were there for them during the pandemic.”
She said: “We’ll see more new entrants and different types of companies [on the high street] because of lower rents, more places that blend entertainment and shopping. Generally, high streets will become more interesting, more curated.”
That flies in the face of concerns that ‘the high street is dying’. Simpson said: “We’ve seen a lot of store closures, but the stats show the fall has plateaued or at least isn’t accelerating.”
She insisted: “Retailers see stores as assets. They’re trying to cement physical locations as brand beacons in a way a digital presence can’t be. Over time you’ll see retailers invest a lot more in stores, making them places people want to go to. They just need to offer an omni-channel experience.”