This decade has witnessed a significant shift in the buying habits of UK consumers, with traditional high street stores in decline and an increasing number of people opting to do their shopping online. Clothes outlets are one of the traditional staples of the British high street that have seen the largest decline since 2015; a report from PwC found that more than 2,656 UK high street shops closed in the first months of 2016. The number of shops that opened also declined, meaning that overall there were 503 fewer shops by June of that year – the most significant decrease since 2012.
While there has a been a shift in terms of consumer spending, with Millennials opting to spend their money on experiences such as holidays and eating out rather than purchasing traditional items, a key driving force behind the decline of the British high street has been due to the emergence and sustained growth of the eCommerce sector with more and more consumers opting to purchase online, taking the market share away from brick-and-mortar stores.
While eCommerce has been a staple of the western world for the previous decade, the emergence of the online marketplace, Alibaba has led to increased confidence in shopping online amongst the Chinese market, and the country is now emerging as a world leader in eCommerce. China has 730 million Internet users, accounting for 40% of global retail eCommerce, and its mobile payment market is a huge 11-times larger than the market in the USA.
However, it is not only China where Alibaba is having an effect; Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, used a meeting with Donald Trump to make the bold promise that Alibaba would assist in the creation of 1 million new jobs in America over five years. Ma utilised the meeting to highlight his belief that millions of Chinese consumers have an interest in purchasing goods from businesses across America.
There is, however, a current gap in the knowledge of western consumers surrounding Alibaba, something that Ma is keen to address as he clocks up frequent-flier miles around the world educating people on his eCommerce platform, which connects buyers to small businesses and sellers around the world.
It will be fascinating to witness the emergence of Alibaba into the western sphere, and its effect upon the current eCommerce sector, and its potential to disrupt the current landscape and revitalise small businesses against the larger eCommerce websites.
However, it is not only the online sector that has been undergoing change; the emergence of the Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle could well provide an indication of the direction that traditional high street shops will need to take to ensure their survival. The new Amazon Store makes shopping easier than having to go online or into a traditional shop, all shoppers need to do is present the Amazon Go app at the gates and start shopping. There are no staff on hand to assist you, no checkouts to queue at, and no pesky passwords to remember to login to an account.
There are a range of cameras and sensors on the ceiling that track a shopper’s movements, as an item is selected, the cost of it is added to their virtual shopping cart. Ten minutes after they have left the store, the app charges the credit card that is associated with their account and a digital receipt is provided.
Could this be a tactic which leads to the fightback of traditional high street stores? While the technology is a long way off being viable for a wide-range of outlets, it does pose an interesting way in which we could see a revitalisation of the high street in the face of the online competition.
The above does pose some interesting questions with regards to the future dominance of the traditional eCommerce stores. Reports from earlier in 2018 highlighted that the proportion of money being spent online had increased year-on-year, as shoppers were seeking out the best prices possible, however the speed of delivery was also an important factor as was the convenience of being able to shop online.
This is a crucial advantage that eCommerce stores possess over the other forms of competition detailed earlier, there is nothing more convenient than being able to shop online from the comfort of your bed or sofa, especially when you factor in the possibility of same-day or next-day delivery. The speed of delivery is one advantage available to larger eCommerce stores over their smaller international rivals on websites like Alibaba.
However, with more and more eCommerce outlets joining the market, it is becoming more and more important for websites to be at the top of their game in terms of offering to users and the experience onsite, especially surrounding the ease of purchasing. This is where those offering conversion rate optimisation services become essential for the online experience; subtle changes to the website have the ability make the consumer’s journey as seamless as possible and increase the amount of revenue generated.
On the surface it is easy to claim that there has been an irrevocable shift towards the online sphere and that the future of the high street is in decline, however the advent of technology does pose some fascinating questions as to the direction in which we may see retail diverge.