Is It Possible To Save Retail?

Large and small retailers announce closures and staff layoffs at regular intervals as the Internet increases competition on the high street. But can anything be done?

The last decade

During the last decade town centre shops have been struggling while in recent years the problem has gotten worse. Traditional retailers, family shops and even pound stores thought to be well positioned in the market are casualties of a major high street shake out. Some reasons for such chaos include uncertainty around Brexit, disproportionately high business rates, good weather, bad weather, and the challenge of out of town retail parks. Each factor has an effect and creates a difficult trading environment. The real problem however is the extraordinary growth of online shopping as Internet businesses invest to ensure fast delivery and low prices.

When Amazon developed a long-term strategy some years ago they found it difficult to decide on an approach, given the volatility of the market. They settled on a strategy based on the knowledge that shoppers wouldn’t want to receive orders any slower that necessary or pay any more than necessary. As a result, they poured huge resources into fast delivery and low prices. It is a strategy that works as customers enjoy a quick response at a low price. Its effect has been to increase the amount spent online and reduce the amount spent in traditional town centres.

The retail sector

The retail sector has always provided openings for young people but the loss of jobs is reducing opportunities for work experience. Over the decades such jobs provided a chance to learn from others and instilled the discipline of working as part of a team to achieve daily sales targets. They also played a part in developing town centres as places where shoppers and others went for a sense of excitement. Such activity is however migrating online, as shoppers purchase what they need by clicking what they want in the knowledge it is instantly packaged and posted.

Retail shops and town centres have never been static as big names opened and closed depending on how they kept up with the latest fashions. But they have always been replaced by other big names in a never-ending stream of suppliers willing to take their place. Change in the retail sector is of course not new as competition has always been a feature. But a lack of new retailers to replace those that close is new, as the number of openings isn’t keeping pace with the number of closures as town centres in all parts of the country suffer. At this point in the evolution of the shopping experience, the thrill of visiting the high street is being replaced by the convenience of shopping at home.     

So, online shopping has grown from a trickle to a flood of activity as shoppers buying habits shift from the high street to the home.