Retail experts urge shop owners to not give up on physical stores

Experts believe the continued decline in UK footfall highlights how important a complete omnichannel offering is
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New research from BRC and Springboard reveals that High Street footfall has continued to decline in March 2016.

Footfall in March was 2.7 per cent down on a year ago – lower than the 1.1 per cent fall in February. High street footfall declined 3.9 per cent, and shopping centre footfall declined by 3.7 per cent.

This continuing trend may make retailers questions whether to abandon a physical store all together and focus solely on an online offering. But BRC’s chief executive, Helen Dickson OBE, is urging businesses owners to consider improving their stores to keep up with the ever-changing shopping experience rather than dismiss

“The near four per cent decline in footfall on our high streets and in shopping centres is partially caused by the distortion of the timing of Easter. It is, however, also a continuation of a longer term trend caused by on-going structural change within the retail industry,” said Dickinson.

“Customers don’t differentiate between buying online, on a mobile device or in-store and often combine two or more different channels when they shop. Therefore, as well as their significant investment in digital, retailers know they also need to continually improve their physical stores to ensure an ever changing and more exciting shopping experience. The ongoing decline in levels of footfall highlights the significance of this structural change.”

Terry Hunter, UK MD at Astound Commerce, believes that these new stats are further evidence of the fact that retailers need to ensure bricks and mortar stores remain an integral part of their business strategy.

Hunter warns that physical and online-focused channels need to operate side-by-side without separation in order to deliver an overall consistent experience for consumers, which he believes will in turn positively impact the bottom line for retailers.

“Although online shopping meets certain needs, a brand’s physical outlets serve a different purpose,” he said.

“A store is somewhere for consumers to have a conversation about a product line. Yet more importantly it’s also an expedient location to easily return an unwanted item or resolve an issue immediately – a level of convenience that simply cannot be found online.

Hunter suggested that rather than competing against one another, the two sales channels are symbiotic.

“Online and in-store needs to exist side-by-side, and operate without separation, which has become the crux of the modern omnichannel retail experience,” he explained.

“If nothing else, omnichannel is about creating parity between the online and in-store shopping experience, and it has never been more important than it is now.

“Fortunately, retailers are now waking up to this reality. Omnichannel is driving a transformation within the industry and all players need to look at building a consistent and fluid experience across all interactions between their brand and the consumer.

He concluded: “By using the right technology, it’s not only possible to create a joined up retail experience that will help brands reach the right consumer, with the right message, at the right time, but also eliminate the concept of different sales channels once and for all and replace them with a single brand experience, regardless of where that interaction takes place.”

Retail icons image via Shutterstock

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