Julian FisherJulian FisherJanuary 21, 2019


As sales figures for the Christmas period rolled in, they certainly made for very uncomfortable reading.

After a disappointing November in which Black Friday – to nobody’s surprise – failed to live up to the hype, there was hope that Christmas would save the ‘day’.

Unfortunately, as we suspected might be the case, December continued the downward trend. Whilst ‘Super Saturday’ was marginally better, it will sadly have been too little too late for many. This begs the question: why, after such a dismal Black Friday, did anyone think that doing the same thing again at Christmas would deliver different results?

For almost a decade the headlines have been the same: the high street is declining and it looks as if the fight is all but going to be lost to online. Yet, arguably, the only reason why the high street is failing to reverse this trend is due to it resting on its laurels.

The high street isn’t the only industry to have experienced monumental disruptors, and perhaps it could learn a thing or two from other industries connected with delivering ‘information’ that lived to tell the tale. Just think how much competition newspapers have faced with the introduction of radio and then television, for example. Or, the disruption traditional airlines faced when low budget competitors emerged on the scene in the 1990s.

There is a clear lesson to be learnt here. Whereas each advance provides a fertile breeding ground for new services, solutions, and even entirely new industries, the former can evolve to flourish, and in some instances prove to be stronger and more enduring.

Traditional high street retail is no different. Rather than continue to suffer, high street retailers need to make adjustments – they need to change, otherwise stores will continue to close.

While many observers are inaccurately projecting an end to the high street, the reality, as proven in the history books, will see traditional players who won’t adopt change replaced by faster and more flexible retailers – some of whom will be online-only, taking their first dip into the physical world and onto the high street.

The answer to survival does not lie ultimately in handouts from the government, although they help. Instead, the future success of our high streets lies entirely with the stores themselves. Change is inevitable, but rather than attempt to beat a competitor by playing their rules ‘away’ (i.e. online) and without the tools and solutions to win the sale, the answer lies with meeting shoppers’ expectations at ‘home’, or should I say ‘in-store’.

Retailers need to serve every ‘in-store’ customer as if they are ‘online’, adding the red-carpet treatment for their visit; who doesn’t want to feel special and needed? Inside, they should deliver product information how customers expect it – on their mobiles, immediately on engaging with products, and it should be informative and shareable.

They should use solutions to win the sale with the best possible price or, at the very least, come as close as possible so the decision to walk away with the goods bought ‘now’ is as compelling as possible. Finally, make convenience to shop in your store one of your primary goals.

Julian FisherJulian FisherDecember 12, 2018


The current division of the high street and online shopping experience is compelling customers to decide between making a purchase online or offline.

This siloed approach to sales might not be the best way for retailers to go about things owing largely to the high street’s instrumental role in driving online sales.

For a large number of retailers, their high street stores are beginning to act as a showroom to which a customer visits to experience a product. Later, this then enables them to make a decision as to whether they go back to the store to purchase the item or go online to gather more information and view a wider product range. With the high street store playing such a pivotal role in online sales, isn’t it time retailers merged the two channels to their benefit and that of their customers?

An integrated approach

There has long been the concept that online and offline retailers must compete against one another for business, even if they are, in fact, part of the same company. By pitting the two against each other, the high street has long fallen short and struggled to keep up with online retailers and the merits of high street stores have been forgotten.

Yet, while online retailers continue to see increased growth, there are several aspects of the retail experience that can only be provided by bricks-and-mortar stores, such as smelling, touching or tasting items. Therefore, with the majority of retailers in possession of both a high street and online presence, it is in their best interest to merge the two so online and offline activities aren’t viewed as disparate entities challenging one and another.

In 2019, this is something we will begin to see as retailers begin to use their online platforms as a tool to encourage consumers to try and buy instore. By using online mechanisms, stores can provide all the benefits of online, namely information which in itself provides the shopper with ‘confidence’, together with all the advantages of a high street store – the means to sample, try and experience the product.

Through the provision of digital information whether fixed via a podium and a large touchscreen monitor or an app which can be accessed on a customer’s mobile phone, the ability to learn what they need to make the purchase there and then.

However, should they decide not to purchase the item from the store and later, say from home, go to the store’s website, I would argue that the sale should still be attributed to the physical store. It is my view, shared by many store managers, unsurprisingly, that sales should be assigned to the place where the customer made their initial enquiry.

And if this is not achieved through programming, customers can be asked the question ‘where did you first see the product?’. For example, if a customer goes into a store to enquire about and try on some items, but then uses the retailer’s website to make the final purchase, the sale should ‘belong’ to the store. This is owing to the fact that it is where the purchase originated and where the necessary information needed to influence the decision was derived.

Again, it is only my view, but retailers must start to ask questions where the business came from, where the customer saw the product and where they got the information and inspiration from to buy it in order to correctly identify the impact bricks-and-mortar stores have on online sales. I think they will be astonished by the results.

What does 2019 have in store? (pun intended)

Within the next two years, we will begin to see more and more companies exploiting the fact that they are a merged business. As the online and offline shopping experience become unified, high street retailers will use their stores to focus on creating better shopping experiences and opportunities for the consumer, so that when they do come to the store, a larger percentage will buy rather than just browse.

This can be achieved largely through the implementation of new technology to provide product information and the use of AI to offer customers a more personalised shopping experience. With this change in strategy, online and offline will be seen as one and the same, and whether consumers buy in the store or through the retailer’s online presence will make no difference.

In my opinion, the phrase “the death of the high street” will also cease to be used as online and offline stop competing against each other. Instead, we will talk about an “adjustment of the high street” as it adapts to the changing ways in which society shops and retailers take a more holistic approach. With the two channels no longer vying for the same sales, high street stores will be able to focus on getting customers back into the store by improving the customer experience and thereby increasing sales, whether they are made instore or via their online platforms.

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